The Proposition and The Night Listener
Two weeks ago I reviewed a small Australian film called Look Both Ways, and urged you to see it. This week, another film from Australia is about to open in Santa Cruz. It’s called The Proposition, and it’s a ‘western’, with, pardon the cliché, a ‘star studded cast’.
A friend predicted I would not like this film, because it’s also studded with graphic violence. But however abominable, violence is one of humankind’s favorite tools. A film that attempts a realistic portrayal of life on a frontier, in this case, the stealing of one people’s homeland by another, must come to grips with the issue. The Proposition does so, and graphic though it may be, the violence in it is not, in my opinion, gratuitous.
I did like this film. The writing, by Nick Cave, known mostly for his music and his band – The Bad Seeds, is excellent. And director John Hillcoat has an impeccable sense of timing. He knows when to linger and when to hint, when to use words to tell the story, or just the camera.
As in many an American ‘western’, there are two kinds of bad guys. There are the aborigines, who must be tamed or exterminated, and there are the renegades from within the forces of empire. In our westerns, we call them ‘outlaws’. With enemies on all flanks, the outlaws are a touchy lot.
The Proposition is a character study of an outlaw named Charlie Burns, played ably by Guy Pierce, and of his nemesis, Captain Stanley, the military figurehead of the Caucasian encroachment played with understated brilliance by Ray Winstone.
The movie’s title comes from a deal, offered by Captain Stanley to Charlie Burns, early in the film. Deals made under duress differ substantially from those made co-equally. The Proposition examines a compact made under the prior circumstance. Conflicting loyalties are notoriously difficult to negotiate. Charlie Burns is a laconic fellow, but we know there’s a beehive of concern buzzing just below his implacable surface. Captain Stanley, on the other hand, wears his stress more openly. He suffers from headaches. He attempts to present a face of stolid authority, but his wife knows, and we know, that he suffers.
Think that being well read is an antidote to barbarity, or that blood is the thickest bond of all? If so, The Proposition invites us to reconsider these cherished myths. I especially enjoyed the small but hugely interesting role played by John Hurt, which asks us to consider that perhaps pride does precede the fall. And Danny Huston, though less magnetic than Hurt, has a role reminiscent of Brando’s in Apocalypse Now.
Be warned that the violence is indeed graphic, but if your constitution can handle it, I recommend The Proposition.
In these reviews I rarely mention films I don’t like, but I would be remiss in my duties, I think, were I not to sound a warning note about The Night Listener, which features Robin Williams and Toni Collette as the leads. Though I love Toni Collette, even she can’t make this stinker interesting. Glacially paced, poorly constructed, and with no payoff at its ho-hum conclusion, The Night Listener is worth about exactly this much space, and certainly not a sliver of your earnings. Avoid it.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.