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The Proposition Reviews

Director John Hillcoat's neo-spaghetti Western, written by musician Nick Cave, transplants the genre's signature tropes to Australia circa 1880 and transforms the stark, surreal beauty of the outback landscape and grinding brutality of frontier life into a sweat-slicked, near-abstract ballet of blood and sand. Squaring off at its center are lawman Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), brought from England by wealthy, pompous Eden Fletcher (David Wenham) to civilize a small settlement in the desert, and outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce), a native son who's raped, robbed and pillaged his way to infamy as part of the notorious Burns Gang. Under intense pressure to kill the Burns brothers after their latest outrage — invading the farm of an upstanding citizen named Hopkins, killing his entire family after raping his pregnant wife and leaving the house in smoking ruins — Stanley captures Charlie and his simpering, none-too-bright younger brother, Mikey (Richard Wilson), in an annihilating shootout. But Stanley really wants Arthur (Danny Huston), the eldest brother and the gang's ringleader; Stanley believes that Arthur is the instigator and offers Charlie a deal. If Charlie will hunt down and kill his older brother, Stanley will spare 14-year-old Mikey the noose. Otherwise the boy will hang on Christmas Day, less than a week away. Charlie rides off in search of Arthur, who's dug in to the heart of Aborigine country. Stanley, meanwhile, hauls Mikey off to the local jail, much to the disgust of the bloodthirsty subordinates who are no better than the Burnses and consider Stanley weak because he values the rule of law above frontier justice and refuses to slaughter the local Aborigines without cause. The situation is a bone-dry tinderbox of heat, boredom, alcohol and endlessly whining flies, and it's just waiting for a spark. Stanley retreats to the illusory haven of his home and genteel wife, Martha (Emily Mortimer), while Charlie, gravely wounded by an aboriginal spear, recovers in the cave where Arthur is living with his new gang, aboriginal outcast Two Bob (Tommy Lewis) and weak-chinned sociopath Samuel Stoat (Tom Budge). Hillcoat works the classic Western paradigms faithfully — the battle between the frontier and the garden could hardly be clearer than in his shots of Martha's carefully tended stand of rose bushes, separated from an ocean of baking red sand by a tiny, whitewashed picket fence — but deploys them with a pitiless ferocity rivaling that of the most excessive Italian genre revisionists of the 1970s.