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The Proposition

Year: 2005
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Nick Cave
Cast: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Emily Watson, David Wenham, David Gulpilil, John Hurt
The Proposition teaches us a valuable lesson. Australia, in hindsight, is the perfect country for that most iconic of move genres; the western.

We followed a similar phase of settlement as the US (the birth of western - as well as Western - culture). We settled in a much more temperate and hospitable east, and started tentatively west across a harsh country full of silent killers including the wildlife, current inhabitants who didn't take kindly to our advance across their home, and the desert itself.

The genre perfectly captures the savagery, beauty and brutality of people trying to scrape a living out of the cruel natural world in the 19th century - especially the British, with their strict social conventions. Some of the most interesting and in some ways saddest scenes are of the Brits trying to uphold their relative pomp and pageantry of dress, behaviour and ritual amid tin shed houses, blistering heat and oceans of flies.

Opening like a smack across the face in a deluge of gunfire as the local constabulary have two thirds of the notorious Burns brothers gang (Pearce and Wilson) pinned down and eventually caught, there's only the nasty rapist-and-pillager Arthur (Huston) left to catch, so colonial peacekeeper Stanley (Winstone) offers middle brother Charlie (Pearce) an ultimatum; hunt down and dispatch your big brother for us, or your little brother will 'ang.

As Charlie goes off in search of the little band Arthur's amassed around himself to live off the land, we also follows Stanley's story. Desperately trying to believe in the rule of law in such a lawless land, he struggles to save his connection with his long-suffering wife (Watson), who spends long days in the desert wondering if he's coming home, their pleasant little cottage beset on every side by hard sandy ground.

Stanley himself faces a mutinous crew of men who are themselves on Arthur and Charlie's trail, and the powers that be (represented by the snivelling David Wenham) who just want an example made out of Mike, the brother they torment in captivity.

While Charlie tries to connect with and talk sense into his obviously mad brother, wondering if he can salvage the situation and come out of it with both brothers alive, the most interesting character is Stanely.

After the bloody opening scene, we meet him and immediately peg him as the villain, but as we see his relationship with his wife (Watson), his sense of humanity towards the captured Burns boy and the job he's trying to do by bringing justice to a land where the very vastness almost negates the concept of law and order, he becomes the most worthy of our sympathy.

Pulling no punches in the violence of flying bullets or that of the Australian outback, it's well scripted and brilliantly designed and photographed, a true genre entry worthy of the title 'western'.

The other lesson we have to learn is that what will bring about the much-needed renaissance in the Australian film industry is simply good filmmakers. While an endless procession of stupid, embarrassing comedies graced out screens in 2003 and 2004, some of our best directors and writers seem to have been hiding in a cave somewhere, planning a broad strike against mediocrity this year.

Among them are the John Hillcoat/Nick Cave partnership (from Ghosts... of the Civil Dead to The Proposition), Rowan Woods (from The Boys to Little Fish), Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways) and Ray Lawrence (from Lantana to Jindabyne).

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