A 'Proposition' Difficult to Refuse

Ray Winstone as Captain Stanley in the brutal and audacious
Ray Winstone as Captain Stanley in the brutal and audacious "The Proposition." (By Kerry Brown)
Friday, May 26, 2006

The Australian director John Hillcoat makes an audacious, unsettling American feature debut with "The Proposition," a revisionist western that brings its own brand of sanguinary honesty to the genre.

Ray Winstone ("Sexy Beast") delivers an unforgettable performance as British Captain Stanley, who in the 1880s has come from England with his milky-pure wife (Emily Watson) to tame the outback. Populated by criminals, speculators, double-crossing aborigines and the ruthless forces of the British Empire, Australia is a mean, fly-infested, unforgiving place; when Stanley rounds up Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his feeble-minded little brother Mikey (Richard Wilson), he immediately accuses them of a recent rape and murder, setting Charlie on a quest across the sere, rust-colored landscape to find his oldest brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), in time to spare Mikey the noose.

What ensues is a series of gory murders and perverse retributions, during which Hillcoat and his screenwriter, the musician Nick Cave, explore the dark side of a history too often burnished in myth. What emerges in "The Proposition" is an ugly reminder that nation building is an enterprise drenched in blood and brutality and that civilization can be a deplorably relative term.

-- Ann Hornaday

The Proposition R, 104 minutes Contains strong, grisly violence and profanity. At Landmark's Bethesda Row.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company