Friday, May 26, 2006

The Proposition

The Proposition is a frustrating film. It's beautifully shot, compellingly violent and dusty, and set in a relatively-exotic, unexplored locale. It's got some pretty powerful performances, and some damn fine dialogue. And it's a Western.

So why didn't I love it?

Guy Pierce, I blame you.

Don't get me wrong - I think you're a pretty dependable actor. Loved you in L.A. Confidential. Ditto, Memento. Not so much in The Time Machine, but that wasn't really your fault. As good as you are, though, you just don't have the innate gravity to nail the man-of-few-words-and-many-bullets archetype you attempted to embody here.

That's The Proposition's main failing - we never connect with the central character of the story. There's nothing there to make us connect with him. Because of this, his actions at the end of the film fail to resonate - and that's FRUSTRATING. Because the tale this movie tells is mythic.

It's the 19th century, in the middle of the dry and untamed Australian wild. Guy Pierce and his younger brother have been captured by the local British Captain of the police, and the Captain offers Pierce a galvanizing Proposition: He's going to hang Pierce's younger brother in nine days time - on Christmas day - unless Pierce rides out into the Outback and murders his older brother; the one that got away.

That's truly mythic stuff - the kind of simple, morally-grey territory that great Westerns are made of. One brother set against the other for the life of the third? Hell, yes.

But because we never connect with Pierce, the movie's central struggle becomes, essentially, irrelevant. More interesting are the relationships between the Captain and his stalwart wife, and between the Captain and his own men. The fundamental disconnect of the film reaches its frustrating peak when we finally meet Pierce's older brother. He's a fascinating character - philosophical, well-read, intensely devoted to his family, and a stone-cold, psycho-killer. He's a living contradiction, and if the film had focused on him, it might have achieved a sort of exaltedly pulpy, mythopoetic grandeur. As it is, The Proposition is still a remarkably engaging, off-kilter film.

Fans of Unforgiven and The Searchers owe it to themselves to seek this one out. Flawed it may be, but it's still the best Western we've seen in some time. We're left wanting an anti-hero that truly grabs us, but we're also left with stunning sunsets, brutal gun and knife fights, and the sort of shifty, untrustworthy characters that make the Western such a great genre.


At 3:19 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

"it's still the best Western we've seen in some time"

What no love for Posse?

At 10:58 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

How could I forget Posse?

Tone Loc was so moving in that film.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

There really should be more African American cowboy movies.

At 10:58 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

By all means.

While we're at it, let's have some more Caucasian Samurai flicks.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Well there's been at least one good blsck samurai movie so why not. Actaually I'm being somewhat serious since their were plenty of freed slaves and other African Americans in the Old West so why not?

At 9:24 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Actually, despite my cheekiness, I agree.

There should be a serious, African-American Western. The problem with it - more than evidenced in Posse - is that there's a tendency to want to make a Statement, rather than a film.

If you could make a good Black Cowboy film, and not have the film's central message be "Yeah, there were Black Cowboys!" I think you'd have something pretty special on your hands.

At 9:25 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

But then, frankly, anything and everything is better as a Cowboy tale.

Take Lord of the Rings, for instance. I liked it much better as The Dark Tower. More shoot 'em ups.


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