"The Proposition"

Directed by John Hillcoat, written by Nick Cave, and set in the arsehole of nowhere, Australia, this film is a violent story about an Irish family with a horrific past, the corrupt Australian authorities and tragedy not unknown in classical Greek theatre. The last time this particular situation was realised was in the stunning Ghosts of the Civil Dead. The Proposition has a high benchmark set against it and it manages to reach it.

I was beginning to despair over Nick Cave’s current musical direction. Where has all the power and Old Testament fury gone? Where has all the bloody violence and butchery gone? Well it seems that Cave hasn’t been singing about these dark matters of late because he has been channelling it all into his screenplay for The Proposition. This movie has been written by the Nick Cave that sung about “a warm arterial spray” and demons crawling up walls, not the Nick Cave that sings about birds and flowers. The Proposition is a gruesome film like much of Nick Cave’s music. The violence is realistic, sometimes more than realistic. Some of the scenes are quite uncomfortable, not in a gross out way but because the trauma is plausible.

With all of his work, be it written, sung or acted, there is a certain melodrama that could make the material seem hysterical and unrealistic. This melodrama is normally overridden by the conviction of Cave’s writing. During the movie, there were a few times when the dialogue was veering on cringe worthy. Well some of the dialogue was cringe worthy but for the most part the acting carried the weaker parts of the script. Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone’s respective performances as Charlie Burns and Police Captain Stanley are superb. The main characters shift constantly from being somewhat good to all out nasty. Apart from the bigoted bounty hunter Jellon Lamb who is played by John Hurt. Hurt brings out the most vile and disgusting qualities out of this character to make one of the more memorable scenes of the movie. The major flaw in the cast is Emily Watson who gave a significantly poorer performance compared to the others. Granted she does a pained expression well but her dialogue (partly Cave’s fault) was ropey at times.

Visually this film was a treat. There was wonderful contrast between the gloomy interiors of the buildings and the bleached white of the Australian landscape. Everyone in the film, particularly the extras, was made to look exceptionally ugly as if the environment they are living in is wearing them down or causing decay. One persisting image in the film is that of the flies. They appear everywhere, crawling at corners of people’s eyes and buzzing around every character’s face. When the deaths start to come faster and more often the flies seem to multiply. The imagery of the insects ties in with the soundtrack in a tongue in cheek way as Warren Ellis plays elements from the Dirty 3 song “Some Summers They Drop Like Flies” in the latter half of the film. The soundtrack itself suits the movie as Cave obviously wrote both the screenplay and the music with each other in mind. From time to time the audio editing wasn’t as sharp as it should have been with some of the music not quite suiting the action on the screen.

The Proposition is not a perfect film. It is a very good film. I wouldn’t say enjoyable because of the sheer horror of the violence, racism and sexism that was rampant in the era but it is powerful cinema nonetheless.