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"The Proposition": A bargain that takes a turn to violence
Special to The Seattle Times
The Burns brothers, Charlie, Mike and Arthur, are all bad news. But in the gruesome, well-acted Australian Western "The Proposition," trigger-happy Arthur turns out to be a special problem.
After Charlie (Guy Pearce) and teenager Mike (Richard Wilson) are captured in a shootout, a British lawman, Capt. Stanley (Ray Winstone), makes a deal with Charlie: He'll pardon him and won't hang Mike if Charlie will track down and kill the psychotic Arthur (Danny Huston).
But it's the 1880s, civilization hasn't quite arrived in the outback and Capt. Stanley isn't as much in control of the situation as he hopes. A lynch mob threatens Mike, and even the captain's genteel wife, Martha (Emily Watson), turns up to witness the younger brother's public flogging (which is almost as grueling as "The Passion of the Christ").
Savagery breaks out everywhere. The captain's boss wants nothing to do with the proposition made to Charlie; he'd rather torture Mike. Aborigines send a spear through Charlie, who appears to be a goner until he's rescued by Arthur. Weaving through the story, and stirring up more violence, is a dangerous bounty hunter (John Hurt) who drunkenly discusses Darwin's theories.
Written by singer-songwriter-novelist Nick Cave, who also provided the offbeat score, "The Proposition" frequently ventures into Sam Peckinpah territory. But it doesn't offer much that hasn't already been said about lawless frontier towns, bonds between outlaws or the settling of the West.
The director, John Hillcoat ("To Have & To Hold"), mixes gorgeous sunsets with horror-movie gore, and he relies too much on both.
The movie's one consistent plus factor is the acting. Huston, the sneaky milquetoast in "The Constant Gardener," drips evil. Pearce is affectingly conscience-stricken. Winstone captures the complexity of a man whose attempts to act relatively sensibly are met with derision and misunderstanding.
Even in a supporting role, Watson can be riveting (as she also proves in "Wah-Wah"). While Martha may seem a bit of brick, Watson gracefully underlines her doubts and longings. As for Hurt, his scenery-devouring approach may lack subtlety, but he's clearly having the time of his life.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company