The Proposition (2005 film)

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The Proposition
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Hillcoat
Screenplay byNick Cave
Produced by
  • Chris Brown
  • Jackie O'Sullivan
  • Chiara Menage
  • Cat Villiers
CinematographyBenoît Delhomme
Edited byJon Gregory
Music by
  • UK Film Council
  • Surefire Films
  • Autonomous
  • Jackie O Productions
  • Pictures in Paradise
  • The Pacific Film and Television Commission
  • The Film Consortium
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 12 September 2005 (2005-09-12) (Toronto)
  • 6 October 2005 (2005-10-06) (Australia)
  • 10 March 2006 (2006-03-10) (UK)
Running time
104 minutes
  • Australia
  • United Kingdom
Budget$2 million[1]
Box office$5 million[2]

The Proposition is a 2005 Australian Western film directed by John Hillcoat and written by screenwriter and musician Nick Cave. It stars Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, John Hurt, Danny Huston and David Wenham. The film's production completed in 2004 and was followed by a wide 2005 release in Australia and a 2006 cinematic run in the U.S. through First Look Pictures. The film was shot on location in Winton, Queensland.


In 1880s Australia, Charlie Burns and his gang engage in a gunfight with the police. All of the gang members except for Charlie and his younger brother Mikey are killed. Captain Morris Stanley tells Charlie that he will have Mikey executed by Christmas, which is in 9 days. Stanley offers to free both Mikey and Charlie if Charlie agrees to kill his older brother Arthur Burns, who is wanted for rape and murder. Mikey remains in custody while Charlie sets out to kill their brother. During a raid, the police capture some Aboriginal people who call Arthur a "dog man", and no one goes near his cave.

Riding in search of Arthur, Charlie comes to the charred remains of the Hopkins home, a family that was murdered and the wife raped by the Burns gang. Along the way, he encounters an inebriated old man named Jellon Lamb in a cantina where the owner has been speared to death. Charlie realizes that Lamb is a bounty hunter in pursuit of the Burns brothers and knocks him out. Later, Charlie awakes and is speared in the chest by a group of Aboriginal men standing over him. Before passing out, he sees the man who speared him get shot in the head.

In town, Eden Fletcher, who hired Stanley to "clean up" the area, orders that Mikey be given one hundred lashes as punishment for the rape and murder of the Hopkins family. Stanley is aghast at this, as he believes Mikey is not responsible for his actions and the flogging will kill him, and because it will break his deal with Charlie and bring the Burns gang's revenge upon him and his wife. Stanley sends Sergeant Lawrence away with tracker Jacko and other men to "investigate" the reported slaying of Dan O'Riley (the dead man in the cantina) by a group of Aboriginal people.

Charlie wakes up in his brother Arthur's camp, located in caves among desolate mountains. Arthur's gang consists of Samuel Stoat, a woman named Queenie who tends to Charlie's wound, and an Aboriginal man called Two-Bob. As he recovers, Charlie has several opportunities to kill his brother, but does not. He lies to Arthur that Mikey is not with him because he has met a woman.

Captain Stanley attempts to defend Mikey at gunpoint from the bloodthirsty townspeople, but is overruled once Martha arrives, insisting on revenge for her dead friends. Mikey is flogged and fatally wounded. The townspeople grow tired at the excessive display, Martha faints, and Stanley flings the bloody whip at Fletcher, who fires him. Back at the abandoned cantina, Sergeant Lawrence and his men have found and massacred a group of Aboriginal people. Arthur and Two-Bob find Lawrence's group while they sleep and kill Jacko and Sergeant Lawrence. Before Arthur stomps Lawrence to death, Lawrence tells Arthur that Charlie has been sent to kill him.

Jellon Lamb enters Arthur's camp and ties up Samuel and Charlie, both of whom are sleeping. Lamb is shot in the stomach by the returning Two-Bob. Arthur stabs Lamb in the heart; Charlie points his revolver at Arthur, but instead shoots Lamb in the head, putting him out of his misery. He finally informs Arthur that Mikey is in custody and is set to hang. Charlie decides to break out Mikey; Arthur, Samuel and Charlie ride into town dressed in the clothes taken from the officers Arthur and Two-Bob had killed, while Two-Bob poses as an Aboriginal man they have captured. Once at the jail, the men free Mikey, and Charlie and Two-Bob ride off with him, but the injured Mikey dies in Charlie's arms. Arthur and Samuel remain to behead the two officers in the jail.

Stanley fears retribution and makes preparations, but he and Martha let their guard down to have a peaceful Christmas dinner. Once they begin, Arthur and Samuel shoot open the door and invade their home. Arthur pulls Stanley into another room and brutally beats him. Samuel drags Martha inside, and Arthur has Stanley watch as Samuel begins to rape Martha. Charlie walks in and informs Arthur of Mikey's death; Arthur ignores him and encourages Charlie to listen to Samuel's beautiful singing. Charlie shoots Samuel in the head, then shoots Arthur twice, disgusted by his conduct. Arthur staggers out of the house and Charlie follows to find him seated on the ground. Arthur asks Charlie what his next move is, and dies.



The film's soundtrack, titled The Proposition, was released shortly after the film in October 2005. The music was composed and performed by Nick Cave and violinist Warren Ellis.

All tracks are directly reproduced from the musical interludes in the film, and feature little alteration from the film score. Many songs on the album are slow-tempo and ballad-like, and the violin work of Warren Ellis becomes the central voice of the album for much of the time. The album is instrumentally focused, and is a departure from Cave's band-oriented compositions. Cave's unusual vocal performances on the "Rider" trilogy of songs brings a particularly haunting and uneasy tone to the album.


Box office[edit]

The Proposition received a Limited release in North America opening in 3 theatres and grossed $32,681, with an average of $10,893 per theatre and ranking #46 at the box office. The widest release in the United States for the film was 200 theatres and it ended up earning $1,903,434. The film also grossed $3,145,259 internationally including $1,567,266 in Australia and $1,157,037 in the United Kingdom for a total of $5,048,693.[3][4]

Critical response[edit]

The Proposition received positive reviews from film critics and has a score of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 129 reviews, with an average rating of 7.30/10. The critical consensus states: "Brutal, unflinching, and violent, but thought-provoking and with excellent performances, this Australian western is the one of the best examples of the genre to come along in recent times."[5] The film also has a score of 73 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 31 critics.[6]

At the Movies critic Margaret Pomeranz called it an "extraordinary film [that] explores the elliptical nature of class, race, colonisation and family. … All the performances are strong but once again Guy Pearce brings a strange power to Charlie and Ray Winstone is truly fine as Stanley. And Danny Huston is oddly perfect as Arthur. It’s a strange, unsettling film, ultimately quite moving, it’s impossible not to respond to it strongly. It’s not an easy access film. It’s violent and the motivation of the characters is sometimes oblique."[7]

Co-host David Stratton thought that The Proposition was "a fascinating depiction of the outback in this period, and I've never seen an Australian film which told what is basically a bushranging story in such an unusual way. So, it has a lot of originality there. And it has fine performances. I thought Danny Huston was extraordinary, actually. He's an actor I usually don't respond to, but I thought he was excellent in this role. So, there's a lot of intriguing elements to this film, but I did find the violence almost unwatchable."[8]

Roger Ebert, giving it four out of four, described the film as "a movie you cannot turn away from; it is so pitiless and uncompromising, so filled with pathos and disregarded innocence, that it is a record of those things we pray to be delivered from". AM New York, The Austin Chronicle and Entertainment Insider also gave the film four out of four.[9][10]

Ty Burr of The Boston Globe acclaimed the film as "a near-masterpiece of mood and menace, and one that deserves to be seen on the largest screen possible".[11]

J. R. Jones of the Chicago Reader said: "This Aussie feature perfectly re-creates the charbroiled landscapes and cruel psychodrama of the old Sergio Leone westerns, with John Hurt particularly fine as a raging old mountain goat." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly opined the film as "a pitiless yet elegiac Australian Western as caked with beauty as it is with blood".[12]

Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal labelled the film "a visionary tale of a fragile civilizing impulse crushed by family loyalty and a lust for revenge in the vast outback of the late 19th century".[13]

Nick Rogers of remarked: "John Hillcoat's violence-probing Western feels as uncompromisingly bleak, royally widescreen and graphically violent as any Sam Peckinpah opus - a sunburned, grimy-nailed saga of point-blank executions and blood wrung from a cat o' nine tails."[13]

Chris Barsanti of the Film Journal International called it "the finest, strangest and most uncompromising western to hit screens since Unforgiven".[13]


Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards
(2005 AFI Awards)
Best Film Chris Brown, Chiara Menage, Jackie O'Sullivan and Cat Villiers Nominated
Best Direction John Hillcoat Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nick Cave Nominated
Best Actor Guy Pearce Nominated
Ray Winstone Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hurt Nominated
Best Cinematography Benoît Delhomme Won
Best Editing Jon Gregory Nominated
Best Original Music Score Nick Cave and Warren Ellis Won
Best Sound Richard Davey, Paul Davies, Ian Morgan and Craig Walmsley Nominated
Best Production Design Chris Kennedy Won
Best Costume Design Margot Wilson Won
FCCA Awards Best Film Chris Brown, Chiara Menage, Jackie O'Sullivan and Cat Villiers Nominated
Best Director John Hillcoat Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nick Cave Nominated
Best Actor Guy Pearce Nominated
Best Cinematography Benoît Delhomme Won
Best Musical Score Nick Cave and Warren Ellis Won
Golden Trailer Award Best Foreign Dramatic Trailer Nominated
Inside Film Awards Best Feature Film Chris Brown, Chiara Menage, Jackie O'Sullivan and Cat Villiers Won
Best Direction John Hillcoat Nominated
Best Script Nick Cave Nominated
Best Actor Guy Pearce Nominated
Best Actress Emily Watson Nominated
Best Cinematography Benoît Delhomme Won
Best Editing Jon Gregory Nominated
Best Music Nick Cave and Warren Ellis Won
Best Production Design Chris Kennedy Won
International Cinephile Society Award Best Picture Chris Brown, Chiara Menage, Jackie O'Sullivan and Cat Villiers Nominated
London Film Critics' Circle Award British Supporting Actress of the Year Emily Watson Nominated
Golden Reel Award Best Sound Editing for Music in a Feature Film Gerard McCann Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Award Best Supporting Actor Ray Winstone Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Award Best Supporting Performance, Male Danny Huston Nominated
Venice Film Festival Gucci Prize for Best Screenplay Nick Cave Won
World Soundtrack Academy Discovery of the Year Nick Cave and Warren Ellis Nominated

Indigenous culture[edit]

Three acclaimed Indigenous Australian actors (David Gulpilil, Tom E. Lewis and Leah Purcell) have supporting roles in the film.

As noted in behind-the-scenes features included on The Proposition DVD, the film is regarded as uncommonly accurate in depicting indigenous Australian culture of the late 19th century, and when filming in the outback, the cast and crew took great pains to follow the advice of indigenous consultants. In an interview included on the DVD, Lewis even compares the depiction of indigenous cultures in The Proposition to the landmark film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), which Lewis starred in.

Home media[edit]

The DVD was released in the United States by First Look Pictures on 19 September 2006.

Tartan Video's Region 2 DVD release in the UK was a two-disc release and contains these additional features: audio commentary by Nick Cave and John Hillcoat on disc 1, exclusive interviews with Guy Pearce and Danny Huston (25 minutes), a "meet the cast and crew" feature (35 minutes), a "making of" feature (118 minutes) and a theatrical trailer on disc 2.

The film was released on Blu-ray on 19 August 2008 and Ultra HD Blu-Ray on April 11, 2022.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Siemienowicz, Rochelle (February 2010). ""Turning words into pictures." An interview with production designer Chris Kennedy". Australian Film Institute. Archived from the original on 22 April 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  2. ^ "The Proposition". Box Office Mojo. 25 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  3. ^ "The Proposition (2006) - Box Office Mojo".
  4. ^ "The Proposition (2006) - International Box Office Results - Box Office Mojo".
  5. ^ "The Proposition (2005)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  6. ^ "The Proposition". Metacritic. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  7. ^ M. Pomeranz, At the Movies [1] accessed 21 January 2015.
  8. ^ D. Stratton, At the Movies, [2] accessed 21 January 2015.
  9. ^ "The Proposition (2006)". Roger Ebert. 18 May 2006. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  10. ^ "The Proposition (2005): Photo Gallery". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  11. ^ Burr, Ty (26 May 2006). "A mesmerizing and menacing 'Proposition'". The Boston Globe. Boston: John W. Henry. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  12. ^ "The Proposition: Critic Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  13. ^ a b c "The Proposition Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 August 2014.

External links[edit]