14 January 2007

The Proposition (2005, John Hillcoat)

{51, C+, **1/2} | DVD

• First viewing, way back in April, was what I think of as a so-what walkout, which basically means that nothing I saw in the first two reels smacked of anything more than competence. Now that I've seen the entire film, I can ask with assurance: So what?

• Hillcoat and Cave have a single compelling and provocative idea: The Proposition posits civilization, rather than violence, as a disruption of the natural order. But this thesis doesn't emerge organically from the narrative, which is thin enough to be exasperating but too detailed to allow for abstraction. Instead, the entire movie functions as a topic sentence, leaving the viewer with nothing to do except wait to see how the next scene will fit into its schema. After a while, I felt like I was on Wheel of Fortune: "I'd like to buy a senseless act of brutality, please." "Go ahead." "Is there a public flogging of a sympathetic halfwit and attendant communal bloodlust?" DING!

•  Stop with the sunsets.

• Winstone lends a weary gravity to his fence-straddling lawman, but Pearce remains a grizzled cipher and Huston can't do anything with that hallmark of lazy screenwriting, the poetic psychopath. Unfortunately, I don't know the name of the actor who gives the film's only genuinely interesting performance as one of Arthur's henchmen; Hillcoat's decision to (initially) leave the camera behind with him and Watson at the climax, playing the gruesome chickens-come-home nightmare off of their alternately terrified and indifferent stasis, suggests that he may have a less pedantic movie in him somewhere.

• Cross-cutting gory violence with somebody pouring his/her heart out in song hasn't been innovative since 1972. Likewise cross-cutting a vicious murder with a horse rearing up in alarm, though I don't have a precise date for that one.

5 comments:

msic said...

I guess I took a far more ambivalent "thesis" away from this film. It's not that civilization deviates from the "natural order" of violence. Silly as it was, the poetry-spouting Huston character showed how the raw and the cooked kind of blend together into a weird primordial stew. Instead, I saw Capt. Stanley's efforts as quixotic but noble and necessary, and Charlie's final act as a sort of mute acknowledgment of that. The one film that comes to mind as an analogue to THE PROPOSITION thematically is WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES, which deals with the breakdown of an oppressive order occasioning the emergence of a long-suppressed, equally dangerous one.

patrick said...

I would add an obligatory defence from an Australian here - Unlike you guys, we've never had our revisionist westerns/Peckinpahs etc.

The Australian wild west is still by and large the old exciting one with buck(jack)aroos, etc. There has also been a lot of denial here in recent years about the 'frontier' wars.'

I felt like this movie - for us - represented an important step/acknowledgement of some of the realities of our history, and the fact that maybe it wasn't the land that was bad, it was the people on it.

Goran said...

I think it's reflective of the sad state of our film industry that we end up wowed by an Australian director earnestly ripping off an American one who's been dead and sufficiently ripped off for over 20 years.

And Mike's is a perfect summary of how I felt about The Proposition

Nictate said...

"Pity about the other movie, the one set on the plane."

Bahaha! Nice one.

Kathleen said...

I guess we now know the answer to "near-daily entries for as long as I can keep it up": 14 days.