Ray Winstone offers one of his best performances yet as Captain Stanley, offering a risky and unorthodox proposition to a notorious outlaw with promise of clearing his name. Guy Pearce stars as the outlaw, Charlie Burns, the brother of his proposed bounty. Motivated to civilize the barren land, even if his methods are not, soon enough a revengeful and protective tone emerges from the captain’s actions.
Australia’s outback features some truly remarkable locations and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme takes full advantage of this. His prowess in cinematography comes to light in an exchange between Charlie Burns, early on his travels, and an old drunk man Jellon Lamb, played by the magnificent John Hurt. While Charlie remains cautious and quiet, Jellon rambles about Charles Dickens and white superiority. This eccentric, emotional and tempered performance is captured immaculately by Hurt, but it’s the terrific framing, lighting and movement that portray every element of this character on screen.
The narrative is paced magnificently, with mature direction from Hillcoat who recognises a need to diversify the tempo from intense action to heart-breaking drama. The heavy and brutal content of the film, along with some very memorable dialogue, makes for some truly haunting scenes. Unquestionably The Proposition is a western that can hold its own not only in the contemporary form of the genre, but equally among its greats.