The Proposition (Australia, 2005)
Directed by John Hillcoat
Written by Nick Cave
This has got to be one of the dirtiest movies I have ever seen. I don't mean that in the "dirty-minded" sense, I mean it literally. It seems like every character is coated with a layer of sweat and dust. And did I mention the flies that swarm everywhere? It's a western that takes place in Australia, I assume while it was still an English prison colony. Ray Winstone plays a sheriff in a small town called Winton, and he's trying to bring civilization to the land. The main conflict of the plot happens at the very beginning, when he captures two members of the Burns gang, who are famous for raping and murdering a local family. These two are brothers, and they've left the third Burns brother, who is hiding in a cave in the hills. Winstone takes Mikey, the youngest brother, and lets Charlie (played by Guy Pearce) go, telling him to kill Arthur, the third brother (and the ringleader, who seems to be responsible for the murders), within nine days, or he will have Mikey hanged. That's the proposition of the title. Charlie heads out to kill Arthur, but he's very conflicted. He wants to save Mikey, and he seems to think Arthur deserves to die, but he definitely doesn't want to murder his own brother. It doesn't help when what's left of Arthur's gang saves him from being killed by some Aboriginies.
Meanwhile, back in Winton, Winstone is facing pressure to execute Mikey, and the townspeople are pissed when they find out that he let Charlie go. Winstone plays the character wonderfully. He has a little homestead set up outside of town that he tries to keep all neat and civilized, with a garden, wallpaper, nice furniture and everything. His wife, played by Emily Watson, lives there with him, and he tries to keep her in the dark about what's going on with his job. It's like his house is his little oasis of civilization, but the savagery of the land keeps trying to overwhelm it. At one point, one of his men comes riding up to tell him something, and he gets all pissed that the guy is all dirty and sweaty in front of his wife. Well, she's pretty curious about his affairs, especially since it was her friend that was raped and murdered by the Burnses. The town mayor (or some sort of official; he's Winstone's boss) is also upset when he finds out about Winstone's release of Charlie, and he decides to have Mikey brought out and publicly whipped, with 100 lashes. Winstone starts to fight against the idea, since he's sure it will kill Mikey, but he relents when he sees that even his wife wants to do it. It leads to probably the best scene in the movie. All the townspeople gather around; they're all gung-ho about whipping the hell out of the kid. The guards drag him out, crying and screaming, and tie him to the whipping post, then start going to town. Soon enough though, they just can't take it. You start to see people look more and more sick that they're whipping this poor kid bloody. Even the mayor, who really wanted to punish him, seems to give up after about 40 lashes, when the kid is just passed out, hanging from his restraints.
I don't know if I really like the movie as a whole; it's just really dark, dirty, and depressing. But there are some amazing scenes like that. The opening scene really draws you in; you see Mikey and Charlie (and some others) hiding in a small house that is being fired upon. You don't hear the gunshots though; you just hear the pinging as the bullets pierce the thin walls of the house. It's horrifying, especially when some of their companions get their heads blown off. There's another scene later when Charlie meets a bounty hunter played by John Hurt, who chews the scenery to pieces as a crazy drunk that confronts Pearce in a bar. He's hilarious. And the scene when Charlie is attacked by Aboriginies is crazy; he's standing there, having just woken up, and it looks like a spear just appears, stuck through his chest. Then he sees the attackers, and seconds later one of their heads explodes, Arthur's gang having shot them. There's also some amazing scenery, mostly of sunsets over the desert. It's a beautiful counterpoint to all the dirt and violence.
There's probably some interesting points to think about, about bringing civilization to a savage land, and whether the "civilization" is any better than the "savagery". And it's not a main theme of the movie, but we do see a little of the way the Aboriginies are treated; they're either slaves or groups of fugitives in the mountains that are regularly hunted and killed. I did like one scene when Winstone lets his Aborigine servant go free. The guy starts to walk away, but stops and takes off his shoes before leaving their yard. He didn't need shoes; the only reason he was wearing them was because they made him. It was a good little detail.
Anyway, it's a pretty good movie. I would probably recommend it, with the reservation that it's very violent and depressing.
By the way, Warren Ellis is credited with "music". I don't know if this is the comics writer or not. The music is good though.
Update: I looked him up on IMDB, and the Warren Ellis who did the music in this movie is not the same person as the comics writer. I think this one might be in Nick Cave's band.