Home / These Films Sleep Well: The Proposition (2005, John Hillcoat)

These Films Sleep Well: The Proposition (2005, John Hillcoat)

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I've always wanted to make a top ten list of my all time favorite movies. I've always wanted to be able to look at a sheet of paper numbered one to ten, and know in my heart of hearts that I've picked the ten films I favor the most.

In taking up this challenge, there are two inherent issues which prevent it from being an honest representation. One, I really, really, really want to look cool. I'd love to say that Godard made my favorite film of all time and that the greatest subgenre of all time is Nikkatsu Action Cinema, with Glass Johnny: Looks Like A Beast taking the coveted number eight position, but I can't honestly do that.

This brings us to issue two, which happily intertwines with issue one, basically dooming whatever that article would be to its place among the deceits I have perpetuated for one of many reasons. If I am able to cut through the bullshit, I look a) stupid or b) uneducated. What kind of film critic would have Ghostbusters on his top ten? And what about Citizen Kane — how can that be on your list? That's on everyone's list!

So I'm not going to make a top ten list. I'm not a big fan of suicide missions, although I don't mind watching them on my TV (Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, anyone?). What I am going to write, to save myself the humiliation, is a column on films I believe to be underrated, under-appreciated, or generally under-seen. Stop me if I mention something completely mainstream and something you've seen and appreciated, because it's important to know when someone on the Internet disagrees with me. Without further adieu I present the first of many posts on my favorite underrated films. Go out and see them as they appear on this list and then you can make them your top ten favorite films. I promise you'll look really cool if you do, to some people anyway.

The Proposition (2005)

On the album Murder Ballads, Nick Cave has a song called "O'Malley's Bar" that runs for 14 minutes and 28 seconds. It's essentially about a psychopath who kills ten people in a bar before shrugging off the idea of suicide. It's no secret that Nick Cave's at his best when he's telling stories, rather than being romantically contemplative, and to me he reaches his zenith here, in "O'Malley's Bar".

One of the first questions brought to mind by this magnum opus is "Why doesn't he just write a book?" And the answer to that is, "Well, he did." He wrote a southern gothic novel, often compared to Faulkner called And the Ass Saw the Angel. But what seemingly few people know is that he also wrote a screenplay and a score for a 2005 film called The Proposition.

Set in the Australian outback, The Proposition's central conflict is that of Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce), who struggles to decide whether or not he will kill his brother to save his other brother from hanging. While my standard position towards crossing specialties is worried optimism, this film's writing is damn near brilliant. With surprisingly little meaningless exposition, we know Charlie's internally tortured throughout the film without him having to sit near a river with a grimace on his face shaking his head and mumbling to himself something to the effect of: "Boy am I particularly torn up. This is a hard decision."

With an all star cast of character actors that includes the magnificent Ray Winstone (The Departed), Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves), Danny Huston (30 Days of Night), and John Hurt (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull), director John Hillcoat makes great use of the space afforded him by shooting in the outback, as well as the superb score by (who else?) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Listen for the greatest sound in film score history at the 1:21:02 mark.

The strange thing about this film's position in cinematic history is that it seems to have none at all. While all fans of the western genre complain about the lack of great output (3:10 to Yuma was passable, but certainly not comparable with the classics), The Proposition snuck in right under their noses despite being the best Western since Unforgiven. I'm sure in 2020 this article will seem ridiculous as the film will have risen to its rightful place in the canon of great westerns, but I'm hoping it won't require Hillcoat's direction of the upcoming film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road to garner it some positive attention, and that it can come to greater heights not only before then, but also of its own power as a near masterpiece.

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About Joshua Wiebe