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Cpt. Stanley: Now, suppose you tell me what it is I want from you?
Charlie Burns: You want me to kill me brother.
Cpt. Stanley: I want you to kill your brother.
2005 Western, set in 1880s Australia. Directed by John Hillcoat, with a screenplay by rock star Nick Cave. Cave and his bandmate Warren Ellis also wrote the soundtrack. It's really good. Cave described it as a story full of beautiful sadness and longing, intercut with moments of intense violence.
Here's a rundown of the plot: Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his younger, mentally retarded brother Mikey are Irish criminals in Australia. After a shootout in a brothel, they are both arrested and imprisoned. During the interrogation, Cpt. Stanley (Ray Winstone) gives Charlie the titular proposition: track down and kill the oldest Burns brother, Arthur (Danny Huston, son of John Huston and half-brother of Angelica), and both Charlie and Mikey will be released. Charlie is forced to choose which brother will die - the mentally retarded and innocent child, or the protective big brother and father figure. Until then, poor Mikey will remain in the Banyon Jail, and if the job is not done by Christmas Day, Mikey will be hanged and the manhunt for Charlie and Arthur will resume.
Cave, Ellis, and Hillcoat also collaborate on the 2009 film The Road.
This Aussie Western includes examples of:
- Affably Evil: Arthur
- Ax Crazy: Arthur and Sam
- Bedouin Rescue Service: Subverted. The natives spear Charlie and he is rescued by Arthur
- Better Than It Sounds/Film
- Bittersweet Ending: Compared to most stories, it's a Downer Ending. Compared with anything else Nick Cave has written, it's pretty happy.
- Black and Gray Morality
- Black Best Friend: Both Stanley and Arthur have one, although Jacko and Two-Bob are Aborigines, not African blacks. In fact, Two-Bob stabs Jacko to death for working with the white policemen. "Here's your knife back, ya dog."
- Bounty Hunter: Jellon Lamb
- Boxed Crook: Charlie. Fletcher is quite unhappy about the idea of letting a criminal loose in order to catch a worse one
- Cain and Abel: Down to their first initials; C and A.
- Cluster F-Bomb
- Cue the Sun
- Distressed Damsel: Martha, at the end.
- Dreaming of a White Christmas: It's Australia, so it's a broiling hot summer. It doesn't stop Captain Stanley and Martha from imagining they are at home in England.
- Empathic Environment: Oh, the infinite and desolate plains of the Australian Outback.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Or in this case, retarded younger brothers.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Charlie and Mikey leave Arthur after his Moral Event Horizon crossing.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Much of the soundtrack has names like "Sad Violin Thing".
- Fake Nationality: Pearce and Huston do fake Irish accents. Pretty good ones, too.
- Famous Last Words
- Genre Deconstruction: Of The Western. A reviewer noted that the authority figure in this genre, the sheriff, is emasculated here. It's most evident in the scenes where Captain Stanley has his authority completely undermined by Eden Fletcher, and is reduced to a pathetic bystander.
- Hanging Judge: Eden Fletcher.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: If you have ever seen a movie with Aboriginals before, then you have seen David Gulpilil (Jacko).
- Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Stanley and Fletcher fight over this.
- Karma Houdini: Fletcher.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Arthur is a raging psychopath, yes, but no one had any problem with his killing Sergeant Matthews.
- Land Down Under: Played in a very un-stereotypical way
- Mighty Whitey: Subverted/defied: the police think the Aborigines are sheltering Arthur, but in fact they hate and fear him. Some of them believe he's a werewolf.
- Morality Pet: Two-Bob implies that Arthur's brothers were this to him, and that their absence has made him worse.
- Moral Myopia: Arthur thinks like this. He loves his brothers and friends dearly, but for him, no one outside this little group is truly human.
- Nakama: Arthur's band of outlaws
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The Burns Gang, Eden Fletcher
- Obliviously Evil: Martha. She coerces her husband into having an essentially innocent boy flogged to death ... but seems more horrified than pleased when she gets what she wanted
- Offstage Villainy: Actually done very well here with Arthur. When he first appears he's a charming, cultured man... and then you see what he does to Jellon Lamb...
- One-Scene Wonder: Jellon Lamb actually appears in two scenes, but he was catalogued back when that trope was called "Cardinal Wolsey"
- Pet the Dog: When Charlie is hurt, Arthur is clearly beside himself with worry, and when Charlie reveals Stanley's plan, Arthur immediately forgives his betrayal and sets out to rescue Mikey.
- Promotion to Parent: Arthur is implied to have raised Charlie and Mikey by himself
- Police Brutality: To put it mildly.
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Most of the characters in this movie. Both Jellon Lamb and Sam are heavily racist. Seemingly Subverted with Arthur (possibly due to his Affably Evil nature) who keeps an aboriginal with him and is not heard speaking ill of any race. Despite being a complete psychopath.
- Psycho for Hire: Sergeant Matthews, who works under Captain Stanley. He is almost as horribly evil as any of the main villains, and leads a massacre of an aborigine village. Arthur may be worse than him, but when he murders this guy, it's his Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Punch Clock Villain: The third member of Arthur's gang, Two-Bob, is a hard to hate: he is a resourceful and Badass aborigine who just wants his land back, and is notably absent for Arthur and Sam's big Moral Event Horizon.
- Punctuated Pounding: "HELP! YOUR! FUCKING! SELF!"
- Ray Winstone
- Rule of Three: The three Burns brothers
- Saving Christmas: The devastating climax.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: This is why Fletcher can make his own laws in the town.
- Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Danny Huston, Guy Pearce, And Ray Winstone Are About To Shoot You
- Shout-Out: Jellon Lamb's name is likely a reference to the Scottish murder ballad "Jellon Grame", about a man who murders his pregnant girlfriend and takes her child as his own only to be murdered by said child years later, much as Charlie is forced to murder his "father", Arthur
- Shown Their Work: According to the other Wiki: "As noted in behind-the-scenes features included on The Proposition DVD, the film is regarded as uncommonly accurate in depicting indigenous Australian culture of the late 1800s, and when filming in the outback, the cast and crew took great pains to follow the advice of indigenous consultants. In an interview included on the DVD, Lewis even compares the depiction of indigenous cultures in The Proposition to the landmark film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)."
- Signature Style: Nick Cave exercises his love of literary discussion, religious debating, and extreme amounts of violence. He even gets to work in some flowers in Martha's rose garden.
- Smug Snake: Eden Fletcher, so very much.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The hauntingly beautiful "Peggy Gordon" sung while the flogged Mikey is shrieking in agony. And again during a rape scene.
- So What Do We Do Now?: Arthur's last words
- Take a Third Option: Turns out not to work.
- A Taste of the Lash: More than a taste. Fletcher sentences Mikey to a hundred lashes from the cat o' nine tails. They don't reach forty lashes before the previously baying audience have all turned away in disgust and Mikey's back is reduced to fleshy ribbons. A blood-spattered Wenham still wants the full hundred lashes.
- The Sadistic Choice: Right there in the premise: choose which of your brothers will live.
- The Western
- Title Drop: "I wish to present you with a proposition..."
- Trojan Prisoner: Two-Bob.
- Villains Out Shopping: Or rather, reciting poetry.
- Warrior Poet: Arthur, Sam, Captain Stanley, and Jellon Lamb. As has been noted, this is a Nick Cave movie.
- What Now? Ending: You were expecting anything else from Nick Cave?
- Your Head Asplode: The natural consequences of averting Pretty Little Headshots, as seen on one of the Aboriginals who try to kill Charlie.