THE PROPOSITION (John Hillcoat, Australia, 2006) — 3
Maybe seeing this right after such a (mostly) melancholy “late” film as PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION made this 19th-century-set Australian revenge “western” seem more like an continuous act of adolescent brutalism than it really was. But I doubt it. Any movie that starts with a title card apologizing for historical depictions of Aborigines will get my back up, even if I’d just seen THE SEARCHERS.
The plot is simple — one of two arrested Irish outlaw brothers (Guy Pearce) is given his freedom, on condition that he hunt down and kill a third brother (Danny Huston) while the other arrested brother (Richard Wilson) is held hostage. But the point is simpler. What this is is, O my brothers, is a self-hating pretentious pile of revisionist twaddle — I hereby coin the term “hatriotism” to describe this sort of Western obsession with rubbing our face in the bad shit in our history. We are the savages, it turns out.
Guaranteed, everything you ever saw in a Roy Rogers western will be demystified to show how ugly it “really” was. Every man will sweat like a pig and have a four-day growth (imagine Sergio Leone without the directorial chops); all the clothes will be filthy and rumpled; meat will be cut in an open-air butcher’s; the hostage brother will be a small and frail; the killings of people will be really gory; somebody will piss or shit in nature very early on; when “Rule Britannia” is sung, it’ll be sung by bloodstained drunks (in case we miss the point, when we get to the line “Britons never will be slaves,” the director thoughtfully cuts to a pile of dead bodies); the homestead must have a white-picket fence, of course. And a character will be beaten up while having the Union Jack wrapped over his head in (there’s symbolism there, I think). John Hurt gives the second-worst supporting “character” performance by an actor named “Hurt” in the past year — an overacted chunk of menacing giggling and mugging so hammy that kosher Jews probably shouldn’t watch this movie.
Yes, THE PROPOSITION really is this one-dimensional and relentless — the equivalent of a little boy shoving a rat in your face. No, it’s a (chronologically) older boy doing the same with pride and expecting you to consider him a deep critical thinker for it. This is all supposed to stand for how mean the honkies were to the Indigenous People, and how our civilization is built on genocide and conquest and brutality … blah, blah, blah. And it wouldn’t be a hatriotic film without a foppish civil servant who … surprise … turns out the most cruel of all (Victor slaps forehead). Or without a perfumed woman (Emily Watson) who keeps a tea set, a grandfather clock and a Christmas tree with snow (importing England to the Colonies, you understand; and it’s summer too, in December … snicker). The rich colonial bitch, of course, must pay for it by being raped, with the attacker entering right at the moment of the Christmas dinner prayer; and if she’s going to be rescued it has to be while the rapist is on top of her (characters in hatriotic tracts have great dramatic flair and timing, you understand). There’s even a portrait of Queen Victoria’s coronation, for the symbol-dense.
In a movie that’s nothing but lumpy moments, the last is the piece de resistance — someone who’s been shot going outside to sit in the lotus position so he can die while watching the sunset with the man who killed him (rhyming with an earlier scene of watching the sunset; easy parallellism matters more than even life itself to a hatriotism character). Pointedly the last line is “what are you gonna do now.” No answer is forthcoming. I guess that’s deep.
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