Just to let you all know, this is NOT for the Month of October, this is for the month of SEPTEMBER. October will get something a LOT earlier than this. I apologize for the delay but I was particularly busy with cleaning up the house with my ma, going to a concert, and finishing my first live action film (sorry, not a western). So yeh, been busy. But I watched a flick tonight which I feel is good enough to warrant a Movie Of The Month, and is also recent and much easier to find. It also got released on DVD a few weeks ago.
I give you something a bit odd, a bit different, but with the same sensibilities we all know and love. I BRING YOU....!!
The Stats: Director: John Hillcoat Cast: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Emily Watson, and David Wenham Type: Australian (!!) circa 1800s setting, Art Film meets Spaghetti Western Supercool Trivia: The writer of the film is musician Nick Cave, who also did the songs for this Availability: Somewhat Common - Amazon US - Amazon UK - However, Germany and France do not appear to have their own releases. You can also get the Australian Reg 4 DVD.
The Content: Checklist:
Band Of Outlaws - CHECK! Unique Historical Backround - CHECK! (Australia during the same time period) Bloody Gunshot Wounds - CHECK! (boom...headshot!) Torture Sequence - CHECK! (knife stabbing, 40 whip lashes) Bleak Walk In The Sandy Desert - CHECK! (sort of) Makeshift Burial by Rocks - CHECK! Themes of Justice and Frontier Politics - CHECK! Ambush By The Law - CHECK! Gorgeous Nature Flourishes/Expanses - CHECK! Savages In The Forsaken Lands - CHECK! (Aborigines!) `70s Exploitation Movie Rape - ALMOST CHECK! Death by SPEAR!!! - CHECK! Animal Violence - CHECK! (dead horse)
Okay, so, what's a movie set in Australia starring a bunch of British actors got to do with Westerns? I guess we pretty much need to look at the facts and things begin to fall into place.
The Proposition, for those uninformed, is a film about a pair of criminal brothers who are caught by a lawman. One younger, the other a bit older. The older one is informed that the younger one is going to be hanged on Christmas day, nine days later, if the older brother of these two doesn't track down and kill the eldest brother of the family. That's "the proposition" (cue dramatic music). From there, we follow essentially two threads, with some subplots along the way.
There's Charlie Burns (Pearce) as the brother who's been sent to kill his older, more asshole, brother, to save the life of his younger brother. This story piece is very artsy in the sense it's got a lot of moments of reflection, thought, and philosophy. It's fascinating to watch this segment, however, and I found myself always enjoying when we came back to it, even though most often it was just to see good ol' "Chuck" riding on his horse across the harsh Aussie desert. It also is the one that has the most violence, including one of the best headshots in recent years. (2006 had US theaters being graced by some very good ones, including Brick, this, and Miami Vice - dig that brainpan splatters ) So this thread is quite fascinating and neat, what's the other?
The other thread follows Captain Stanley (Winstone), a good cop who's trying to bring justice and civilization to this harsh territory. The problem is that he's not plagued by the issues of the criminals, but rather, he understand the brutality of his area better than anyone else does and as soon as he brings the youngest Burns brother to his jail, one accused of raping a well-beloved woman of the area, everyone's crying for whippings, hangings, and any sort of "violent retribution" that can be dished out. Stanley also has to deal with his wife, who is simultanously a pressure and a relief for him. What's awesome about this story thread of the film is seeing a great deal of complexity to the themes and ideas. It shows that there's no easy way out of solving a violent criminal, especially one accused of something as atrocious as rape. Although I loved Guy Pearce's segments, I have to say, Winstone stole the entire show for me.
So obviously, we see two very western concepts so far, but with some added character texture and elements to make the film have a more gripping dramatic pull than the typical pulp spaghetti westerns or the plodding "traditional" stuff of Costner and later Eastwood. Although I'll say the film sometimes gets bogged down here and there, the originality and emotion with which these scenes in the overall are handled give the entire film a feeling of freshness. I've not seen a film like it from this era and I'd love to see another.
On the other western front is the fact that the visual look is pure spaghetti west. At times playing extreme homage to Leone and Corbucci (there's a great Django moment post-rainfall), with the crisp bright yellow/sun-soaked look of many films today, it blends a lot of ideas of old with the technology to create art that we have today. The gritty locations, costumes, and makeup also add a great deal of texture and it's great to see an amazing contrast between the scummy outlaw-looking types and the wealthier upperclassmen. You especially notice this when you cut from Pearce with grease-slicked strands down his face to Winstone with his slick hair combed nicely. You see that extreme of rich/poor that was prevalant in areas of new frontiers. There's also the weaponry, the pistols being a good mixture of stuff you don't often see in American Westerns, but still maintaining the old Winchester.
Speaking of weapons, one thing to also point out is how the violence and action of this film is handled. To say right off the bat - there's not much. I'm gonna be honest, this is has the least, amazingly least, amount of action or gunplay out of all the films I've reviewed so far. There's pretty much one, maybe two gunfights, and some vicious up-close-and-personal gunshot stuff, but nothing too extreme. There is a great deal of violence, as I said, the headshot was amazing. And the whipping is extraordinarily brutal. If you are not prepared for the violence of this film, you will get a surprise, I assure you. My friend from England, who watches the same kind of gory/f'ed up movies I do, was pretty unsettled by this flick. I didn't even flinch, really. =p (not to brag or anything, I would've loved to have been more unsettled)
The thing is, the purpose more of the film is to embrace a vibe of witnessing "Life", as it may have been, in this location and setting. From watching the sunset to the simple treats of a richer life. You see many facets to both the rich and the poor, the outlaw and the lawman, you see good and bad, black and white, all over. There's truth and goodness in most of the individuals, leaving you feeling a strange moral ambiguity which I felt wasn't lived up to as much in the end, unfortunately. But perhaps that is life, that even if it seems complicated, in the end, things get sorted out in their own way. So you see, the movie's more about getting across thematics, not visceral violence.
The only ones who really get it in the bud is the Aborigines, who are protrayed in something of a stereotype "Indian" role, but even then, it's used as a way to try and exemplify the Western archetypes of the genre. It's interesting how close to a western this tried to be, although my dad made the good remark that with its incredibly slow and deliberate and arsty pace, it feels almost like Ingmar Bergman's take on the western, especially with the grim concepts of violence and death and betrayal.
Unfortunately, it's hard to say whether I like the film THAT much. I enjoyed many parts of it and it's one I was looking forward to, but I think watching it tonight, I wasn't in the mood. Unfortunate, but ya know, that's what I get for not going with my gut and watching a Kinji Fukasaku movie instead. >_< I think in time, I will grow to appreciate this film more for its own merits and what it is. It's not what I expected in all the ways, but it's still a brilliant piece of work that, for the western movie fans, is worth trying out.
Pics are pending. By the way, I'm gonna do the Yojimbo/Fistful Of Dollars/Last Man Standing thing next month.
Unfortunately, it's hard to say whether I like the film THAT much.
Same here. I finally got my mitts on this film & I have to say that (after reading your review again before posting this reply) your breakdown of the good & the bad aspects of the movie are spot on. After carefull inspection, I have a renewed appreciation for your reviews. Everything you said about this film is an accurate representation of how I feel about it as well. Very "artsy" for most beer drinkers I think. But I can appreciate films that are above your average "bang, bang shoot'em-up" style flicks meant for mass consumption. The scenery truly plays a big part in the dryness of this film. I couldn't help but wonder why the hell they weren't dying of thirst thoughout most of it. (Though they all looked very sweaty & filthy.) And the violence, though sporadic, made me cringe at times. The whipping scene was brutal. I also took note of the seperate story lines, which is something I always enjoy in movies no matter the genre. The acting was very good (I took a special liking to John Hurts supporting role) & the camera work was exceptional imo. And yeah, I also picked up on the way that the aboriginies were portrayed in a similar fashion to native americans in more traditional western flicks. Is it an american western? NO. Is it a western from an australian perspective? I think so. And like Futsin points out, it's more like a slice of theoretical life from that era/location than anything. I'd watch it again.
Ya know, it's interesting, my distaste for this film grew over a long period of time and kinda hit a peak awhile ago. But interestingly, a friend of mine discussed the great qualities of the film with me at length to the extent that I'm willing to give it another shot. I need to dig it up and do so, but I may end up enjoying the film better later.
SPOILER I think my favorite scene, though, is the whipping. As horrid and violent as it is, I love the psychological aspect where you see the townsfolk realize that what they thought they wanted was truly a horrible thing that should not be wished upon anyone, especially someone who is as innocent as the boy is. The moment where David Wenham is handed the bloody whip is one of the strongest bits of the film, where you see someone really capture that sensation of guilt and shame for desiring so disreptuable and vile an act. ENDSPOILERS
And I agree, the Aborigines were protrayed very similarly to the Native Americans in US Westerns. I'd like to see Mark Dacascos try to pull off passing as one of them in a French Period Piece/Horror movie. (that's a very obscure reference, btw)
EvilFutsin wrote:I'd like to see Mark Dacascos try to pull off passing as one of them in a French Period Piece/Horror movie. (that's a very obscure reference, btw)
Oh, are you talking about "Brotherhood of the Wolf" know as "Le pacte des loups" in France ? That's a very bad movie, in my opinion, even if it was well enough for ... hmm .. mass consumption (I like that term, thanks Red ).
Bah, say what you will, but I liked it a great deal. =P Although Gans nearly destroyed all that good will from that picture for me with Silent Hill (thanks in part to that third act monologue and exposition scene - yowch). There was a lot in that flick to enjoy and I don't see how it's a mass consumption film given the complexity of genre-blending. >_>
I saw this movie in the theaters and thought it was hard to sit through. I don't question the merits of the film, but it was unsettling. I really appreciate the film and what it is presenting. Besides, there were some topnotch roles Winstone was outstanding, heck so were Pearce, Hurt, and Danny Huston. I've never seen Huston in such brutal role.
As for what makes a western, something that comes up in this review AND the Three Burials review, I'm pretty open on the topic. Australia was a great big, rugged, untamed, land just as much as the U.S. was at about the same times. They went through the same herder vs. farmer, and water wars we did. So, I have no problem seeing something like this and categorically calling it a western. I really like that Evil reviews movies that are at their core westerns, whether or not they are on the surface. Heck, I don't even require a lot of action for a movie to be a good western. See the Gunfighter with Gregory Peck. There are a couple of fist fights, a couple of threatened showdowns, and maybe one or two duels. Yet it is a great story about the challenges of the west, and karma for lack of a better western term.
Finally, the pic of Pearce with the gun outstretched, which Evil calls his favorite pic; that was going to be my avatar when I joined the forums, but I couldn't get it to shrink into a decent image. So I went with Frank from OUaTitW.