Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Brothers Burns

The PropositionDirected by John Hillcoat(2005)
What is "The Proposition"? A lawman new to Australia(which was settled first by English convicts and prisoners), sets out ot avenge the horrible and violent death of a pregnant woman and her family(of whome his wife was a close personal freind). His plan is simple he will capture two brothers from the famous Burns gang and will ask one Charles(Guy Pierce), to kill his older brother the savage Arthur(who commited the murders), or else the lawman will kill his younger brother the mentallly handicapped Micheal. What follows is Charles quest to find his brother, and the lawman's quest to civilize the new country. Since it's set in Australia it's technically not a "Western", though aside from that detail, and the replacement of Indians with Aboriganals, you'd hardly notice. However the distinction is important, because The Proposition is a deceptively clever film. The proposition in question is whether you should kill your brother to save your brother. The inherint drawback in chosing civilization over the wilds is it puts one instantly at odds with the wilds, in binary us vs. them, civilization vs. non-civilzation. Civilazation is the town, the law, it's fashions and fears, the wilds are the country itself, it's natives and non-whites, it's criminals, it's desolate terrain and animals. In choosing to kill his brother, Charlie Burns, takes up the proposition of civlization, to kill the strong and the other, in order to spare the meek and familiar. Had screen-writer Nick Cave, left the story there it would have been a midly interesting new western, what makes it great however is it complicates further.
The sherriffs wife wants revenge for her freind and demands the younger Burns boy be punished, as does the town and his superiors who don't understand why he released Charles in the first place. If the sheriff punishes the boy(a public wipping he will likely not survive), the pact will be broken, and he himself will have to face the Burns brothers should they return. In the wilds there are angry natives, roaming criminals and mercenaries, and a pregrant woman can be raped and murdered in her own home.
While in the civilized town a young handicapped boy can be beaten to death publically for something he did not do and by rights does not understand. The proposition, or choice between the new nation or anarchy, is not one that can be easily made, and this is the subltle brilliance of this movie. Arthur burns at one point says when asked by another member of his gang wheter or not they are misanthropes; people who hate the world and everyone in it, to which he replies "Were not misanthropes were family". On one level it's just a very gritty western with lush cinematography and amazing music, and on another level it's a story about the founding of a country like Emir Kusturica's "Underground" was to Yugoslavia, and on yet another it's an weighing of the pros and cons of all civilizations(as many people pointed out Australia around this period resembles the wild American west to a T). You don't have to think about all this during the film to enjoy the story, but in it's at times thin or slow patches it might help to know that there are greater forces at work in this film than meet the eye(consider John Hurt's wonderfull speech early on the film, about why they are in Australia).
I don't particularly care for Westerns, it's rare when I fall for one, along with "3:10 To Yuma" another film which can go over peoples heads, this was a film that breathed great life into a genre I would not normally look at. It's difficult stuff in this film, but with a little thought and patience it rewards, where many similar movies just cram in extra gun fights.

No comments: