The New Yorker

The Propositio­n

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John Hillcoat’s sweat-stained movie, from 2006, is set in the Australian outback at the tail end of the nineteenth century. Here, outside a remote settlement, live Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone) and his wife, Martha (Emily Watson), who are striving to maintain a British decorum, complete with Christmas dinner, in an untamable land. Hence the determinat­ion with which Stanley, the chief of police, pursues the Burns gang—three brothers (Richard Wilson, Guy Pearce, and Danny Huston) who have murdered a local family. The title refers to Stanley’s risky offer: if the middle brother can find and kill the eldest and most savage, the youngest will be spared. What ensues is a strange blend of manhunt and tone poem, in which even the most brutal characters seem rapt in the face of red earth and endless sky. The film was written by the musician Nick Cave, who also supplied the score; the result may feel confused as a narrative, but as a portrait of a riven culture, bred on racial conflict, it is formidably hard to ignore.—Anthony Lane (Reviewed in our issue of 5/8/06.) (Streaming on Tubi, Pluto, and other services.)

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