Great acting all around in this Nick Cave-penned Australian Western that effectively captures the darkness and myth that pervade the songwriter's songbook.
The story in The Proposition revolves around a Captain played by Ray Winstone who captures two of three brothers, members of a gang responsible for the murder of a well-to-do family, and offers one of them the chance to release the other if he catches the third. In other words, one brother is given the power to decide which of his brothers will live. In other words, one brother must condemn another brother to death.
What's exceptional about the film (and the script) is the way in which every character has a relationsip with every other character. Little details, like the knowledge that the Captain's men all want to have sex with his wife, for example, create an inter-connected world as well as deepen the narrative and create extra consequences for every action. In keeping with this idea, none of the characters in The Proposition are simple heroes or villains. Everyone has a red right hand, so to speak.
What the film shows is a cycle of suffering in which the strong inflict pain on the weak, who inflict it on the weaker still, who lash out with explosions of violence against the strongest. The only way to escape is to break the cycle, and whoever does that, the film seems to argue, is the true hero.
State-sanctioned jutice is not far removed from vigilante justice, outlaw violence, or the law of the land in Cave's outback. To misquote a high school physics textbook: for every action there is an opposite and greater reaction. In this way, The Proposition is not unlike Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, but with one key twist that changes its entire worldview. Because what happens when the solution is also part of the problem? What if the fly-swatter is also one of the flies?