Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Quick Thoughts on John Hillcoat's The Proposition

It's been a while since I've posted anything on I offer up these random thoughts I had while watching The Proposition today on HD OnDemand.  It appears that the film will be on through the end of the month and into May. Check it out if you haven't seen it back to more boring Education classes...

John Hillcoat’s down under western The Proposition shares a lot in common with the novels of Cormac McCarthy. Both artists are interested in the stark, uncompromising – almost primitive – way violence affects their characters (and their viewers/readers); both artists are interested in placing this violence in the realm of the western; and both of these artists succeed at taking a genre that is wholly American – traditionally easily digestible and altogether satisfying because of the tidiness the genre lends itself to – and turning it into something more existential and ambiguous. It’s no wonder Hillcoat went on to make McCarthy’s The Road in 2009, because watching The Proposition one cannot help but think of not just the brusque violence found in McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or The Crossing, but the mood of McCarthy is evident here, too. The Proposition is a film that deserves mention next to McCarthy’s novels as that kind of film that can evoke what the great American author so often accomplishes (especially with “The Border Trilogy”): a kind of assaying of violence in the west as seen through a mythological lens.

The Proposition’s violence is juxtaposed with the beautiful and vast Australian backdrop (almost too big for cinematographer Benoit Delhomme’s camera) and the punk-country western music by Nick Cave (who also wrote the screenplay) fits in perfectly with the kind of anarchistic and unpredictable nature of the violence and the kind of spirit the film emits. The cast is superb here as Guy Pierce and Danny Houston have never been better, and the always reliable vest Emily Watson and Ray Winstone really make the final moments of horror palpable. The film is beautiful to look at (except for when that beauty is interrupted, and sometime splattered, with the film’s austere violence); the music, especially that haunting opening song, is appropriate in evoking the appropriate mood of this alien western; the performances are all top notch; and most amazing is Hillcoat’s ability to take the western genre, make it violent and brutal, and turn it into an experience that is akin to reading a McCarthy novel. That is about the highest praise I think one can bestow on this film.