Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Good, the Bad and 'The Proposition': The Australian Outback, Circa 1880. Inside a Weathered and Rundown Shack, a Hail of Bullets Haemorrhages through the Walls as a Deadly Gunfight Unfolds

Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Good, the Bad and 'The Proposition': The Australian Outback, Circa 1880. Inside a Weathered and Rundown Shack, a Hail of Bullets Haemorrhages through the Walls as a Deadly Gunfight Unfolds

Article excerpt

Bushrangers Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his little brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) exchange rounds with the assaulting troopers outside, but they are easily outnumbered and quickly overpowered. The siege ended, Captain Morns Stanley (Ray Winstone), who has recently arrived from Britain with his wife Martha (Emily Watson), interrogates Charlie about the location of his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston). The beating, however, is not having the desired effect and the veteran outlaw holds his tongue, unfazed.

Stanley, a tired, overweight and dishevelled man, stares out the cabin's window at the strange alien frontier of his newly adopted country. He was sent to the small town Banyon for what he hoped would be a cosy assignment. What he found instead was a 'god-forsaken' lawless land, plagued by flies and the brutality of men. 'Australia. What fresh hell is this?' he asks himself. 'I will civilize this place.'

He turns his attention back to Charlie: 'I wish to present you with a proposition. I want you to kill your brother.' In exchange, says Stanley, he will pardon them both, sparing 14-year-old Mikey from the gallows. Faced with an impossible choice, a stunned Charlie accepts the proposal and sets off across a sweltering harsh desert in search of Arthur, who is camping in the mountains with the remainder of their gang.

Meanwhile. Captain Stanley has other problems. Eden Fletcher (David Wenham), a powerful businessman and landowner, has heard of the proposition and angrily confronts him. It turns out that Mikey has been implicated in the vicious rape of a local girl and many of the town's residents are furious with the Captain's decision. They want the boy publicly flogged. To make matters Worse. tribes of renegade Aboriginals roam the land, pillaging and murdering. 'Do the job I brought you here to do,' Fletcher tells him. 'lf you have to kill one, make sure you bloody welt kill them all. His hand forced, Stanley allows the lethal lashing of Mikey. Says Winstone:

Stanley went out to Australia on a high, looking forward to the challenge, thinking he could change [and] civilize the place and the people with the British" Empire behind him. But of course the reality was somewhat different.... he makes a completely immoral suggestion, asking a man to kill his own brother ... [and then] we see him being very brutal to a young boy. In contrast you see this man at home, loving his wife and being a normal human being. He has a very strong belief in what, to him, is right and wrong and believes his actions are completely justified. (1)

A unique and vivid portrayal of early Australian colonialism, The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005) is an anthology of agonizingly suspenseful moments and vicious confrontations, leading to a surprising and unforgettable climax.

Shot on location in Winton, northwest Queensland, the birthplace of Banjo Paterson's Waltzing Matilda, director John Hillcoat establishes the period and mood early. Utilizing the opening credits, he fills the screen with a photo montage of dead European settlers, lifeless babies still in their cribs, and Aboriginals at the mercy of white occupiers. In starting the film with such macbre images, Hillcoat taps into what D. H. Lawrence described as "that peculiar lost, weary aloofness ... lying mysteriously within the Australian underdark.' (2) He explores a time when the nation's identity was forged by a displaced underclass: convicts, and notorious outlaws such as Ned Kelly, Ben Hall, John Gilbert and Dan Morgan--criminals history would later immortalize as folk heroes.

Many of the scenes resemble renowned Australian oil paintings. The heat rising from the parched ground in the mythical town of Banyon, and the depiction of human survival amidst the isolation and hardship of the red desert and its decaying terrain are reminiscent of Sidney Nolan's Going to Work, Rising Sun Hotel (1948) and Perished (1949), or of Russell Drysdale's Sofala (1947), The Rabbiters (1947), and Sunday Evening (1941). …

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