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Beauty and the Beasts

Posted at 9:46 AM on May 17, 2006 by Euan Kerr

"The Proposition," is a brutal film peppered with moments of breathtaking beauty.

Guy Pierce (l) as Charlie Burns and Danny Huston as Arthur Burns in "The Proposition" (Images courtesy of First Look Pictures, Kerry Brown photographer)

Set in the Australian outback, it's about a devious plan set in motion by a British police captain, who captures part of an outlaw gang in a shootout. After the smoke clears there are only two left, Charlie and Mike Burns, brothers to the gang leader Arthur.

Captain Stanley (Sexy Beast's Ray Winstone) tells Charlie he's going to hang his little brother Mike in just a few days unless Charlie returns with Arthur's body. Charlie, (Guy Pierce) who dotes on Mike, sees he has no alternative and goes off to hunt down his older brother.

Arthur is held responsible for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman, who also happens to have been the best (and probably only) friend of Stanley's wife.

Director John Hillcoat plays his greasy foul-tempered characters against each other, and against the pristine beauty of the outback.

The police and the townspeople describe Arthur Burns as a monster, but quickly display their own lack of humanity through the treatment of the prisoners in the town jail, the local aborigines and even each other.

Only Captain Stanley, who came up with the proposition in the first place tries to maintain some sense of European civility, if only to protect his naive wife Martha (Emily Watson.)

The script, written by Australian indie rock legend Nick Cave, who also did the music, is as lean as Guy Pierce's skeletal torso.

The film is filled with convincing performances, but none is more eye catching than Danny Huston (son of John and grandson of Walter) who plays the poetry-quoting Arthur.

He never raises his voice, taking a quiet, almost philosophical approach to life, even as he is on a killing spree. At one point he commends a man he has just gut shot on his literary taste.

He's nigh on psychotic, but holds certain principles dear, such as the importance of family, and the appreciation of the splendor of nature around him.

At one point one of the other gang members asks him the definition of 'misanthrope.'

"A misanthrope is someone who hates humanity," Arthur replies.

"Are we misanthropes?" comes the next question.

"God no! We are family."

But what a family! As the film progresses and the story of revenge, violence and family loyalty plays out, there is a lot to think about.

"The Proposition" is being sold to US audiences as a western. It's not. There are unwashed men with big hats and big guns riding horses. Yet this is clearly an Australian story, replete with all the racist colonial ugliness which besmirches antipodean history. It tells part of that story very well.

May 2006
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