Fearful Symmetry

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The Proposition

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We're a long way from Neighbours

We're a long way from Neighbours

This is a blistering Australian Western written by the musician Nick Cave. It’s a real shame they never produced his Gladiator 2 script. Bizarre doesn’t even begin to describe it from what I’ve heard about it. The film would have ended in a twenty-minute battle scene that has the gladiator becoming an eternal warrior fighting in Vietnam and the toilet of the pentagon.

What we have with The Proposition is good for that rarest of beasts – the modern Western. But it’s no Unforgiven. (Or Gladiator 2.)

Shifting a standard western plot out to Australia does add an unusual twist to the genre. The heat is murderous – a literal hell as more than one character remarks on. Only the ‘blacks’, the aborigines, can really survive and prosper in this environment. The whites survive only by sheer bloody mindlessness.

Ray Winstone, is one of them, an ex-solider, now the head of the small band of police in a remote outback settlement. His personal mission is to civilise the land.

The film begins with a murderous gunfight filmed from inside a tin shack that becomes riddled with bullets. All the action is refreshingly bloody and interestingly directed. There is more of a hint of Peckinpah to the proceedings. In the aftermath of the fire-fight Winstone gives one of the few survivors, played by Guy Pearce, a proposition: either kill his evil out-of-control brother – who has raped and butchered a whole family – or his other younger brother will hang. Pearce goes off into the desert to hunt down his brother who has become an almost mystical figure. If you are already in hell is there any chance of redemption?

Unfortunately the characterisation is somewhat uneven. Guy Pearce is a bit too subdued and he does not quite have Eastwood levels of charisma needed to play the silent type. The film also gets punched all out a shape by John Hurt’s cameo, who steals every scene he is, and just about completely steals the film out from under the noses of all the other participants.

Winstone, however, does well with a complex character along with Emily Watson as his beloved wife. They have fenced off a portion of the wilderness to try and bring a bit England to the outback, with rose bushes around their house and eat eggs for breakfast on the veranda. There’s some subtle stuff here with, for instance, a throwaway shot of Watson wistfully flicking through a mail order catalogue of children’s clothes that speaks volumes. However Winstone and Watson’s performance also contribute to tipping the film’s emphasis away from Pearce and his brothers – they come over as more ciphers leaving to an ultimately unsatisfactory conclusion. Still I’m interested to see what Cave comes up with next; hopefully something as bizarre sounding as Gladiator 2.

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Written by Fearful Symmetry

July 5, 2009 at 10:20 am

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