John Hillcoat's searing Oz western is a must watch. Sandy George counts the ways.
12 Dec 2014 - 11:58 AM  UPDATED 10 Jun 2021 - 2:26 PM


This ain't your average costume drama

The Proposition is a tale of authoritarianism, lawlessness and brutality set in the 1880s on the Australian frontier. It has a uniqueness and a clarity of vision that makes many other stories about this time seem like derivative costume drama. Hats off to regular collaborators writer/composer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat. Neither are based in their country of birth and this distance probably added to the strength of the film.


It's a force of nature

The film has a glorious artistry to it.

It also has the drama and intensity of a force of nature. Perhaps some of what happened on the shoot rubbed off on the film: temperatures exceeded 40 degrees in Winton, Queensland, during filming; high winds caused havoc at times; and a car accident put the director in a neck brace.

The Proposition won -- deservedly -- the 2005 IF Award for best film of the year.


It's Guy Pearce's best work

Sweat and desperation drip from Charlie Burns -- the best performance of Guy Pearce's career. Yes he's created a host of intriguing characters before and since -- including in Memento and LA Confidential, Animal Kingdom and The Rover -- but that's my opinion.

But actually the whole cast is outstanding with Ray Winstone and Danny Huston particularly standing out.


It's morally complex

Winstone's Captain Stanley has taken matters into his own hands with little reference to judge and jury, for example, and is made to suffer as a result. It's fascinating (and makes me wonder, what have all the efforts to try to eliminate eye-for-an-eye thinking done to the psyche of modern men -- yes, men?).


It's all in there

It's a film full of other big themes besides the changing definition of justice: loyalty and betrayal; family ties; and the nature of civilised society.

And speaking of civilised society, does Stanley really not see that it will be impossible for him to create and preserve a calm, ordered, privileged life for himself and his family while chaos and inequality rages around him? I can't help but think that has resonance today.


It's one of the best Australian films ever made 

Perhaps because as I write, I'm on a cycling tour of Taiwan, soaking up someone else's history and culture. I feel very keenly the value of cinema in terms of its nationality.  



Watch 'The Proposition'

Wednesday 16 June, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies / NOTE: No catch-up at SBS On Demand

Australia, 2005
Genre: Drama, Crime, Western
Language: English
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Tom Budge, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Noah Taylor

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