Image result for the proposition movie poster

Round 3, Pick 9, February 9, 2021

“The Proposition” [2005]

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. 

Image link:  https://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/vertigo_magazine/issue-1-march-2006/the-proposition

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!


  1. Sounds a bit gruesome but interesting. Fine pick! Have you seen ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’? Another Australian drama dealing with plight of Aborigines back in early-20th C.

  2. Pingback: 2021 MOVIE DRAFT- ROUND 3 PICK 9- MSJADELI SELECTS- THE PROPOSITION [2005] — slicethelife – Tao Talk·

  3. TT you amaze me. What a great choice. Top to bottom. Watson holds her own in this male driven story. I did a take on this one. Top to bottom it hits on all cylinders. You are going against your grain on this one. It’s violent as hell. I can still feel the heat and hear the flies buzzin. Man did Hillcoat and his cinematographer set the time and place. You felt you were there. Great take!

    • Bailey, I’m glad you like Guy Pearce. I loved him in The Rover also! Guessing you’ve seen Memento? He was great in the Alien series as Weyland. He was in a good TV series called Jack Irish also. I’ve only seen one bad thing he was in (a netflix series.) Robert Pattinson is another favorite of mine 🙂

  4. I remember Pearce from L.A. Confidential and Rules of Engagement.

    Danny Huston is great, too. As a tie-in to Hans’ Citizen Kane, Huston played Orson Welles in Fade to Black a year after this movie.

    Lisa, is this in the Western category or the Foreign Film category? I’m tracking everyone’s choices.

  5. Great writeup. I like the way you structured it. I like the way it flows.
    I love this movie. It’s one of my favorite films. Yes, it is oppressive. Yes, it is brutal. It is also beautiful.
    The cinematography is outstanding. The dialogue is poetic. My favorite part is where Samuel asks Arthur, “what is a misanthrope?” Arthur tells him that a misanthrope is someone who despises everyone and everything. Samuel then asks “is that what we are?” “God no, lad,” an appalled Arthur says. “We’re family.” His response haunts me.
    To me, the Burns Gang are degenerate, raping, thieving horse pirates, nothing more. Arthur is a psychopath. The grinding wheels of his violent fantasies are music and poetry to his his ears. His intellectualism merges with his depravity and leaks out in his grandiose explanations and observations of his world. He sees beauty in blood and destruction. He sees beauty in the family because, to him, its membership consists of treasured marionettes that he manipulates to suit his twisted little plays.

    • Thanks much, Pam 🙂 I also liked that misanthrope scene also, where Samuel asks what a misanthrope is, Two Bob accurately defines it, then Samuel disses Two Bob’s answer but then parrots Two Bob — then Arthur steps in with his response.

      So awesome you are a fan of the movie 🙂 I see you’ve given Arthur’s character a lot of thought. I don’t want to give away any spoilers to anyone who hasn’t seen it (those who haven’t seen it, please stop reading this comment right now.) If Arthur was the complete psychopath you characterize him as, why did he let Charlie kill him? He knew that Charlie was going to “take him out” as soon as Charlie showed back up, but he played along with him, knowing how fate was going to play itself out. [e.g. when he asked Charlie where Mikey was and Charlie told him he was with a girl named Molly.] Arthur’s vision of keeping the land and the people he was one with protected meant to kill — until someone stopped him. Because family meant everything to him, he was willing to let his brother have the honor. Truly heartbreaking.

  6. Arthur allows Charlie to do him in because his death is the climax of his odyssey. It is grandiose and it suits his malignant narcissism. He has no qualms about Samuels death, not to mention his and Samuel’s blood lust and brutality. He arouses it. He sexually torture women. Like all psychopaths, he is miserable and welcomes his death even as avoids it at the cost of many lives.

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