Round 3, Pick 9, February 9, 2021
“The Proposition” 
Genre: (Australian) Western
We are white men, Sir, not beasts. Oh, he sits up there in those melancholy hills; some say he sleeps in caves like a beast, slumbers deep like the Kraken. The Blacks say that he is a spirit. The Troopers will never catch him. Common force is meaningless, Mr. Murphy, as he squats up there on his impregnable perch. So I wait, Mr. Murphy. I wait. – Jellon Lamb, from The Proposition
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer (and Composer): Nick Cave
The Burns Gang
Danny Huston as Arthur Burns
Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns
Richard Wilson as Mikey Burns
Tom Budge as Samuel Stoat
Tom E (Tommy) Lewis as Two Bob
Leah Purcell as Queenie
The Burns Gang is made up of three Irish brothers and three others. Arthur is the oldest brother and leader of the gang. Arthur is the intellectual that has a library of books in his hideout. He understands his purpose as keeping the white menace from destroying the beauty of the land and its people. He also believes that love and being with family are what’s important. The two views are not compatible with being able to exist peacefully in the world, which is his dream.
Charlie is the middle brother. Charlie is the one who decided to walk away from the gang and to take Mikey with him. He is not able to stomach anymore some of the heinous acts Arthur has committed and pulled them into in the process.
Mikey is the 14 year-old baby brother. He’s a complete innocent who is guilty only by association with his brothers. He may be cognitively impaired.
Samuel Stoat, as Arthur’s protege, sings songs from his Irish homeland like a nightingale. He’s a practiced marksman.
Queenie is the Aboriginal healer and caretaker.
Two Bob is Aboriginal and Arthur’s right-hand man. He despises the whites and those who ally with them as much as Arthur does.
The Military Police
Ray Winstone as Captain Morris Stanley
Robert Morgan as Sergeant Lawrence
Brian Probets as Officer Dunn
Iain Gardiner as Officer Matthews
Gary Waddell as Officer Davenport
David Gulpilil as Jacko
Captain Stanley has been commissioned to command a ragtag group of soldiers and assorted civilians with a purpose of what is euphemistically called, “taming the Aboriginal population” but realistically it means exterminating them. The Aboriginals have started killing settlers who have built homes and declared ownership of their ancestral land. His mission is to make the area safe for white people. The soldiers under his command wear shabby uniforms, don’t bother to shave, and spend much of their time sitting around the jailhouse that holds only one prisoner. They are bored, restless, and cruel men.
Image link: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/proposition
Other important characters
Emily Watson as Martha Stanley
John Hurt as Jellon Lamb, the bounty hunter
David Wenham as Eden Fletcher
Rodney Boschman as Tobey
Morris and Martha Stanley were sent off to Australia from England when Martha went against her rich parents’ wishes and married “down.” She’s a genteel lady who lives in a fine wooden structure that sticks out like a sore thumb in the desert. Her only company now is Tobey, the Aboriginal butler.
The film begins with a bang, where Charlie, Mikey, some prostitutes, and a few others are trapped in a cabin that is being shot up by lawmen. Charlie and Mikey survive. Mikey is carted off to the fortified jailhouse. Captain Stanley has orders to kill all members of the Burns Gang; but Captain Stanley is a smart man. He knows that Arthur is the real menace to the white settlers. He also knows how much Charlie loves his little brother. He decides to use his police discretion to make a proposition to Charlie : hunt your big brother Arthur down and kill him, bring me proof, and I will pardon both you and Mikey. If you don’t, Mikey dies on Christmas day (nine days from then.)
The gang, which has recently attacked a man and his pregnant wife, has the townsfolk in an uproar, thirsting for vengeance. The couple were neighbors on the outskirts of town with the Stanleys. Martha also thirsts for vengeance. Eden Fletcher is the wealthy guy who runs the town. He is the one who hired Captain Stanley to not only kill the Burns Gang but to direct troops to find and kill any Aboriginals engaged in attacking settlers. He also keeps steady pressure on Stanley in demanding swift and certain punishment for the renegades.
The story intricately weaves among the fibers that hold the relationships of the characters together. It looks at the relationship between Captain Stanley and his wife; between the relationships of the brothers in the gang; in the relationship between the police force, the settlers, and the Aboriginals. The warp and weft between all of these interrelationships cranks the tension up until it hums.
The Outback overshadows all. Cinematography showcases the loveliness of the place. The big open sky where the sun is free to paint itself expansively. The red earth that glows. The giant rock structures that both impose and welcome. Heavy rain that turns the town’s street to muck. There is a mystical quality to the place that the cameras and the director are able to capture.
There is a beauty and grace in how the film is enhanced with small details as well. The flies that seem to be everywhere. The seemingly endless need for headache powder the captain mixes and drinks. The recited poetry that feels like it comes from the sky as Charlie searches for Arthur. Speaking of poetry, the dialogue in “The Proposition” is often in such language. These are men who have been hardened by the harsh environment, but they are not stupid men. The music, also composed by Nick Cave, meshes seamlessly with the story.
It’s difficult, if not impossible to choose standout performances. The ensemble clicked with each other and all gave their all in the roles. There is nothing about the film I didn’t like other than it is telling an ugly story. It’s a harsh and brutal reality that these things happened in the late nineteenth century in Australia’s Outback, defined by google as, “the colloquial name for the vast, unpopulated and mainly arid areas that comprise Australia’s interior and remote coasts. The Red Centre, in the Northern Territory, exemplifies the Outback.” The editing is excellent.
To be aware of: there are scenes of graphic and sexual violence that may be disturbing to some. The violence is not gratuitous.
Trivia: All the firearms are period replicas. Famed gunsmith Buck Merry crafted each one with his own two hands. They were indeed transported to set via steam locomotive.
Danny Huston is the son of the great director, John Huston, and the half-brother of Anjelica Huston.
Director John Hillcoat has had a longstanding professional relationship with Nick Cave. After first approaching Cave to do the score for a movie that didn’t yet exist, it eventually turned into Hillcoat asking Cave to also write the screenplay. Cave, who is known as a storyteller in his narrative songs, took on the challenge and wrote the screenplay in three weeks.
Filming location: Queensland, Australia
Length: 104 minutes
Awards: 13 wins and 30 nominations
On rating scale of 1-10: 9
Just by chance, I found a copy of the full movie on youtube. Life is good!