Back in the good old days of the Hollywood Western, black hat-wearing bandits and white hatted do-gooders would battle in light, cheery romps that romanticised the period and made it all look darn swell. Actors like John Wayne made the West look so fluffy and vibrant. But over the years, the Western has become a darker affair – perhaps most popularly in Clint Eastwood’s revisionist Oscar-winning epic Unforgiven. But the darkest, grittiest and most nihilistic take on the genre comes in John Hillcoat’s Aussie-set The Proposition.
Queensland, 1880s. Notorious outlaw Charley Burns (Guy Pearce) and his simple-minded younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) are captured by the obsessive Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), when Charley is offered the titular proposition. If Charley kills his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), wanted for rape and murder, in nine days, then both himself and Mikey will be given full pardons and freed. If he fails? Mikey will find himself at the end of a noose.
And so begins the darkest and most disturbing journey into this historic gunslingin’ era ever put on film. Written by musician Nick Cave and scored by himself with Warren Ellis, there is a certain hauntingly lyrical beauty to the harrowing tale that feels almost like a visual album at times. The faint of heart need not apply as the film is certainly visceral in its brutal violence and portrayal of the era’s horrors, but the film excels more so in its expertly realised characters and mesmerising performances. Guy Pearce is commanding as he is plagued by his moral journey, while Ray Winstone puts in his second finest performance after Sexy Beast as the obsessed, tortured lawman. Danny Huston is quietly terrifying, balanced out by the heart brought to the story by Emily Watson’s Martha, wife of Winstone’s Captain. A brief but unforgettable performance from John Hurt steals the two intense scenes he appears in.
The film looks and sounds absolutely hypnotic. The aforementioned score by Cave and Ellis is nightmarishly compelling and a perfect compliment to the film’s gorgeous cinematography (expertly shot by Benoît Delhomme, At Eternity’s Gate). The sun-soaked outback has never looked quite so, well, hot – the blazing sun beating onto the viewer as the endless flies captured on film make your skin uncomfortably tingle. It’s all so immersive, pulling us into its intimidating and lawless world and coming dangerously close to giving us cinematic heatstroke. The new restoration – available on Blu-ray and 4K UHD – heightens this considerably with a masterful transfer and beautiful colours. The Proposition has never looked better. Also included is a 80-page booklet full of fascinating and insightful essays alongside new writings and recollections from Hillcoat, Ellis, and more.
Visually stunning, masterfully crafted, and impeccably performed, The Proposition is a darkly violent modern masterpiece given stunning new life in 4K UHD.
The new 4K restoration of THE PROPOSITION is to be released on both UHD & Blu-ray and on iTunes and Amazon Prime on 11 April 2022 from BFI