Forward to next post: That Was Then
Captain Stanley: Do I need to introduce myself?
Charlie Burns: I know who you are. Captain Stanley: Good. I know who you are.
The first is The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat, written by Nick Cave (yes, that Nick Cave). The film is set in the Australian outback in the 1880s as morally ambiguous police interact (“fight” is the wrong word here) with morally ambiguous bushrangers. Morally ambiguous, hell. Downright evil and psychopathic bushrangers. Evil, psychopathic bushrangers who believe that life is improved by a touch of poetry. Third leg of the wobbly triangle are the “wild” aborigines.
Your main protagonist (“hero” is the wrong word) is Captain Stanley (played by Ray Winstone), a police officer who is intent on “civilizing this place.” Your main antagonist (“villain” is the wrong word) is Charlie Burns (played by Guy Pearce), who wants to protect his simple-minded younger brother. In order to do that, however, he has to deal with the proposition of the title: Kill his entirely-too-clever elder brother. That elder brother is crouched out in the hills, not three days’ ride away. The elder brother is balanced by Captain Stanley’s wife, a proper Englishwoman with a porcelain tea set, rose bushes, and a white picket fence. An unspoken character is the blazing heat of the Queensland summer. The events of the story explicitly take place over nine days; we see a lot of beautiful sunsets.
The film starts in media res with a gunfight, and, as bullets puncture the walls of the tin-sided hut our men are in, the harsh light enters. It reminded me of the gunfight in the vampire film, Near Dark, where the beams of light pose a danger to the vampires that the bullets do not. It’s that kind of light.
Two other unspoken characters besides the heat and light: Dust, and flies. Those aren’t just ordinary flies. They’re Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. The dust, I suspect, is the dust of “dust thou art.” There are lots of literary references. It’s all richly nuanced, deeply layered, and wonderfully performed. It’s a classical tragedy, with the ending both surprising and inevitable. It talks about a lot of big themes: family, and love, and racism, and imperialism, and civilization.
The Proposition won a lot of awards. E.G. AFI Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Music Score, and Best Production Design. Critical response was generally glowing.
It sank without a trace, earning back $5 million world-wide, on an estimated $20 million budget.
It too is a Western. It too has a morally ambiguous protagonist. That protagonist is offered much the same deal as Charlie Barns was in The Proposition; a pardon in repayment for killing a particular man. That’s pretty much where the similarities stop.
Jonah Hex (played by Josh Brolin) is a bounty hunter, an ex-Confederate soldier who has been hired by President Grant to stop an ex-Confederate general who is planning to blow up Washington, D.C. with glowing-orange super-padoopie cannonballs. To this end, there’s quite a lot of running around, from the dusty-desert of the West, to New Orleans, to Virginia, to Washington. Unity of place is out the window. So’s unity of time—I couldn’t figure out how long anything was taking, or (with the web of flashbacks) when many of the events took place. The female with the speaking part, (Lilah, the hooker with the heart of gold, played by Megan Fox) could have been removed from the plot entirely without anyone missing her. Her only function seemed to be as an underwear model.
Jonah’s big talent is being able to speak to the dead. Any time he needs some exposition, he knows right how to get it.
Aside from an incoherent plot, jumping around in time and space, and characters no one gives a damn about, is there anything to like in this movie (other than Ms. Fox’s PG-13 T&A)? Not really.
Jonah Hex, too, sank, although with a bit more trace. It earned $20 million worldwide on an estimated $40 million budget.
It didn’t win any awards.