Movie Review: The Proposition
Saw The Proposition last Thursday. Australian western, written by Nick Cave and starring Guy Pearce. Some random thoughts.
Minor Spoiler Warning
First of all, I'm impressed at how easily the western genre translates to the "foreign" setting of Australia. But I must say that it certainly did. Played well with many of the conventions of the genre, and even took certain aspects a bit further. The film is extremely violent and bloody, so if you're not into that sort of thing, don't watch it. Definitely in the Sam Peckinpah tradition, but more graphic, as if it were fused with some Tarantino or something.
The film was a pretty serious one to digest, and I let it sit in my head for a while while I mulled it over. I've been thinking a lot about theme of late, so I was trying to get to the theme of this film. The best I could come up with on a single viewing is that the film was an exploration of what it means to be "civilized." It is set against the backdrop of those who are trying to tame and civilize the rough and tumble wild expanses of Australia. I believe the term civilize is even used a few times.
There are scenes in which the supposedly civilizing whites massacre aborigines. We see the proper English home of Captain Stanley, and his wife, complete with formal rose garden, surrounded by a white picket fence bordering the surrounding badlands. Of course, there is also the peculiar juxtaposition of Arthur Burns as cold blooded killer with his loyalty to family (to a fatal flaw), his literate culture, and his appreciation of God's nature. And of course the climactic scene offered a great combination of the uncivil forcing itself upon the quasi-artificial civility of the Stanley home.
Still, while I see this theme as explored relatively effectively, there are also bits about "justice" and "family." Perhaps both of these may be seen as subsidiary to civilization. More importantly, however, I'm not quite sure how the climax relates to this theme. I don't really know what it says, one way or the other, about civility.
Beyond theme, I think the script did a great job with certain elements, but fell short on a few others. One of the most impressive tricks the script pulls (and I need to file it away as a great technique to pull out sometime) is to start the film with us despising Captain Stanley, but then turning things around so that by the end we feel sympathy for him. This happens primarily by constrasting him with the even worse Eden Fletcher, a purely despicable creature that you love to hate. Also, by allowing his character to grow and change a bit, we see him change for the better. It is a difficult technique to pull off, but it works wonderfully when it works. It helps create more rounded characters, rather than purely black and white.
Charlie Burns, the Guy Pearce character, however, is less well written. In the tradition of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, Charlie Burns speaks little. But where Eastwood was a truly central character in those films, appearing in nearly every scene and taking serious action, Charlie is a more passive character. He begins the film with the toughest of choices, based on the proposition of the film's title. But then he does little through the film until the climax. He almost plays as a secondary character.
Dialogue is a similar mixed bag. I typically like the technique of having different characters repeat the same line in different contexts. It can make for some interesting thematic exploration. But I felt that the technique was a bit overused here, and felt forced. At other times, however, we get some witty, clever, funny, and/or moving lines. Overall I'd say the film isn't too much about the dialogue, but it still could have some better work on this front.
Oh, and not surprisingly, the music was awesome, if a bit "in your face" at times.
In totality, I really enjoyed this film, but feel it was somewhat flawed. I'd love to rewatch it at some point, and examine it further. And if you are a fan of this style and genre, I'd definitely recommend it!
Tags: The+Proposition, movie+review, Nick+Cave, screenwriting