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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Proposition

by on August 27, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Proposition”
Rated R

From a piledriver opening-title cutaway into a shooting gallery to a finale of characters stumbling in a blood-besotted desert daze, “The Proposition” married Terrence Malick’s visual majesty to Sam Peckinpah’s sublime macabre.

John Hillcoat’s 2008 Western felt as uncompromisingly bleak, royally widescreen and graphically violent as any Peckinpah opus — a sunburned, grimy-nailed saga of point-blank executions and blood wrung from a well-used cat o’ nine tails.

Infused with aboriginal mythology and written by musician Nick Cave with the malevolence and moroseness of his “Murder Ballads” album, “The Proposition” opens on a brutal barter in 1880s Australia.

Captured criminal Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) can spare his younger brother’s life if he kills his elder brother, Arthur (a feral Danny Huston). These are the terms of Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), a British import obstinate about ousting fetid felons like Arthur (who orchestrated the slaughter of a family close to the Stanleys) and shielding from brutality his wife Martha (Emily Watson, savagely sexualized even within their relatively tame town).

“I will civilize this land,” Stanley barks, exposing his impatience, impotence and illusory ideas that imposing order in the Outback is anything but an impossible obsession. Arthur becomes the whale to Stanley’s Ahab — pursued beyond reason in an ultimate test of both Stanley’s ideals and Charlie’s familial ties.

Murder is murder. Bullets are bullets. “The Proposition” probed the stakes of violence embraced as virtue on either moral side and cautioned those who seek vengeance that it may be revisited upon them with swift repercussions.