To some, this will be their first venture into the history of Australia’s colonial past. They wouldn’t know much about the country at the turn of the century and its treatment of Aboriginals or convicts that served as indentured labour. Both bound to the land by history. Both controlled by force. You might have seen the bleak THE NIGHTINGALE, which explores the latter from a female gaze. Or if you are lucky like me, THE CHANT OF JIMMY BLACKSMITH, which envisions the former in an epic tragedy. In THE PROPOSITION, director John Hillcoat (THE ROAD) and writer  Nick Cave, yes that Cave, we get a film that navigates through a desert wasteland, with burnt husks, bloodied bodies and menacing panoramas.

Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is arrested with his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) by local lawman Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone). Both are wanted me and one, Mikey has a price on his head and a noose set to slip around his neck. Stanley doesn’t care for either of these men but knows that he can use the threat of hanging to force Charlie to do his bidding. The task is clear, track down, gain confidence and then kill Arthur (Danny Huston), the two men’s elder and evil brother. Arthur is hidden out in the bush some where and the prospect of finding him is slim. However, if Charlie does, Stanley will let him and Mikey free. 

It is fair to say that THE PROPOSITION stands tall in Australian cinema. John Hillcoat certainly extracts the histrionics of the land, alongside its vastness. But its Cave’s script that deserves praise equally. It links the early films of the region (and the first full length film) THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG, through the post war films such as THE OVERLANDERS and even the Ozploitation era films like MAD DOG MORGAN. It is certainly just as unflinching in its graphic violence as the latter but also as meditative on the land as the middle. You see Australia is a vast place and much of it, a void. The film explores how this affects the humanity that exists within it. Reminding me of the journey in WALKABOUT by way of more bullets and less naked bathing. Pearce turns in a exceptional performance as the brother, set to a task and indebted to a monstrous man. Though asking us which of the men is worse, is the films most interesting element. Brother or jailor? The littered desert, spread thin with bodies of those caught in the actions of men of empire and criminal endeavour, is stark and nihilist. But this adds a sense of the futility of the journey, and in the end, our own course in life, when we have to meet an end, already written.


The 4k restoration is among the best of this year and for me ever. This is saying something indeed, as the last time I saw this, the film looked stunning, screened as it was in a cinema. Finally though we get the harsh white light and shimmering heat, clay reds, dust yellow and even the chipped whites as colour corrected. I doubt anyone will better this. I doubt it very much.


Extras are one thing, in this set are all the old disc extras from the original release. But the new stuff is worth celebrating as it covers two discs. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson commentary is not as dynamic as director and writers, nor should it be. It is a post event reconciliation of the film and though a little academic in places, a well produced feast for the content conscious. John Hillcoat and Nick Cave in Conversation is the best thing on the disc and should be seen after the film and after their original commentary. They discuss, with age, the film as a completed whole but also seem to enjoy each others ideas anew. It compliments also Heller-Nicholas and Nelson commentary, as a body of logic on the film. 

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