The Proposition (First Look Pictures, R)

Since the world’s moviegoing audience hasn’t been privy to a reliable stream of films like this in about three decades, The Proposition is a welcome addition to the western mythology and will very likely be successful with the niche audience it targets.

 

 

Most Nick Cave fans know that he’s known for doing much more artistically than just his best-known work as a musician. He’s acted in a few movies (both as himself in Wim Wenders’ classic Wings of Desire, as well as opposite Brad Pitt in Tom DiCillo’s Johnny Suede) and written a reasonably successful novel called And the Ass Saw the Angel. Now he’s written his first screenplay on his own, The Proposition, which is about as major an international release as has come from Australia in recent years.

The Proposition is a throwback to Peckinpah/Leone–type westerns, wherein the three-member Burns Brothers Gang rapes and kills a settler family, and then are tracked and punished for their crimes. The town’s lawman, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), catches two of the three Burns boys, including the youngest, a 14-year-old named Mikey (Richard Wilson), and tells Mikey’s also-caught older brother, Charlie (Guy Pearce of Memento and L.A. Confidential), that he must track down and kill the oldest Burns brother Arthur (Danny Huston), or else he’ll hang Mikey on Christmas day. It is at this point when The Proposition goes off onto the old trope of the western, the search for someone or something in the great endless desert (or Australian bush, as the case may be).

Since the world’s moviegoing audience hasn’t been privy to a reliable stream of films like this in about three decades, The Proposition is a welcome addition to the western mythology and will very likely be successful with the niche audience it targets. The question, though, is how much of the audience for westerns such as this one are also the Cave audience. Cave himself does not appear in the film, and while the screenplay is steeped in the kind of grand storytelling that makes Cave such a fantastic lyricist, I’m not so sure that The Proposition is what his fans will want to see in a movie. Plot aside, there are enough sudden scenes of extreme violence (the graphic and brutal way violence is used in this film is in the tradition of the aforementioned Peckinpah, as well as films like Bonnie & Clyde or The Pianist) to satiate the darker contingency of Cave’s fans. Also, Cave and his violin-playing Bad Seed Warren Ellis (also the leader of Dirty Three) wrote the very pretty score, so they won’t be at too much of a loss for things to like in this film. Still, something tells me that the film’s marketing will focus on the arthouse names in the cast (in addition to those already mentioned, Emily Watson plays Winstone’s wife) or it coming from the pen of Cave, which will likely lead to the film not being seen by those who will most appreciate it. It’s a shame, too, because I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have long been craving a film such as this one.

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