Australian director John Hillcoat's new film, The Proposition, erupts in a burst of bloodshed and bullets as a gang of "bushrangers" engage in a shootout with a raggedy band of policemen led by British law officer Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone). It's Stanley's job to rid the region of all good-for-naughts and he has his blazing gun-sights set on the notoriously brutal Burns brothers, who are recently most wanted for the ghastly rape and murder of a local pregnant woman.
After weathering the hail of bullets, Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his fourteen-year-old brother Mikey are forced to surrender to Cpt. Stanley, who ultimately offers Charlie an intriguing proposition: if Charlie finds and kills his savage and elusive older brother, and leader of the Burns Gang, Arthur (Danny Huston) a pardon will be given to Charlie and Mikey. However, if Charlie fails to kill Arthur, on Christmas morning Mikey will be removed from the jail, ensuring that on that day - much to the delight of locals hungry for revenge - more than just mere stockings will be hung.
That's the basic setup for The Proposition - a film that is fueled more by brutal realism than nostalgic romanticism, and is simply the best Western to come down the pike in many a moon.
Director John Hillcoat has fashioned a Western that, while specific to the Australian Outback of the 1880s in which it is set, is also rooted in the Western traditions which many moviegoers, and you can count me among them, are yearning to see stirring up dust on the big screen once again. The Proposition is not merely a retread however. The film scripted by singer/songwriter Nick Cave (in a purported three weeks no less!) is an unabashed throwback to classic Western archetypes and themes, but the material has enough imagination and originality that it never feels tedious, or simply redundant. Without giving away details which might compromise the film, suffice it to say, at times the story also seems to use familiar setups as a way of playing with genre stereotypes and audience expectations, which it then slightly subverts, to somewhat surprising, if not altogether "rousing" effect.