May 10, 2006

The Proposition

The Proposition (2005) is an Australian film, set in the Outback in what appears to be the late nineteenth or very early twentieth century - my Australian history is, well, nonexistent (sorry J). If I had to commit the cardinal sin of review-by-comparison-and-modifier, I'd say that this movie comes closest to Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven but with a greater historical relevance and even greater moral ambiguity.

The imagery is savage - not only the violence, which is graphic and meticulous, but not casual (never that), but the landscape. The Outback is shown as a vast, gloriously wild and unforgiving place, with Europeans struggling to eke out a life there by imposing their civilization's habits upon the land. As they place frame houses on ground flat for hundreds of miles in every direction, their customs too sit perched awkwardly atop the dusty soil, unable to put down roots. The faint traces of life in the Outback, to which one might attach oneself, are visible; there are Aborigines living there who have been there, we can tell, since time began. However, the constant presence of racial contempt that the European society brings with it prevents it from truly putting down roots in this place.

This latter point is made most poignantly when one character dismisses his native houseman in order to prevent the latter's being caught up in the cycle of violence that is approaching. As he approaches the gate, the settler calls to him to only half-ironically wish him merry Christmas. Turning, he removes his shoes and drops his pocket handkerchief next to them, replies "Merry Christmas, Cap'n," and trudges through the gate - clearly commenting that these trappings of Europe will be more of a hindrance than a help outside the garden fence.

The acting is really quite good. Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, John Hurt and Emily Watson all shine, but everyone in it holds up their end. As has been noted by other reviewers, the costuming and makeup is so total (in terms of grittiness and filth, at times) that it can be difficult to identify actors - which ends up making their performances all the more powerful.

I recommend it highly. Be warned that the violence is not cartoony, is highly bloody, not only bloody, and very effective - but also absolutely necessary.

Posted by jbz at May 10, 2006 6:43 PM | TrackBack

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