In direct opposition to both his handsome and gentlemanly demeanor along with the uniquely near-musical diction that makes one feel that actor Danny Huston would have been perfect in the films made by his father-- the legendary John Huston-- for some reason as Danny told Internet Movie Database, he seems “to play a lot of losers.” Whether cast as the slimy Sandy who embarks on sexual blackmail of Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardner or playing characters with less than heroic traits, Huston is usually a walking contradiction that plays against his appearance but he saved his most brutal role for 2005 when he portrayed frightening killer Arthur Burns in Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat’s grueling western The Proposition.
Written by musician Nick Cave in just three weeks and set in the late nineteenth century, The Proposition begins with a chaotically violent gunfight after which, British import Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), the sherriff in the hellish rural Australian landscape arrests two brothers from the notorious Burns gang—dimwitted, young Mike Burns (Richard Wilson) and his older brother Charlie (Memento’s Guy Pearce).
Threatening Mike with the noose, Captain Stanley gives Charlie nine days until the Christmas holiday to track and kill the family’s proclaimed “monster,” his eldest brother Arthur (Huston) whom the arrested Burns’ had stopped riding with after the slaying at the Hopkins ranch which took the lives of an entire family including the pregnant matriarch.
Rumored to be hiding in the mountains, Charlie accepts the Captain’s offer for a pardon and sets off on an exhaustive search through the Australian outback as he encounters bounty hunters such as Jellon Lamb (John Hurt) on his treacherous path to Arthur, despite knowing full well that he may in fact be riding to his own death and that Mike’s life is in jeopardy given the lawlessness of the community that has begun to turn on both British do-gooders-- Captain Stanley and his beautiful younger wife Martha (Emily Watson).
Vicious, increasingly ugly and stomach churning, this authentic yet artistically stylized western has little in common with the white hat verses black hat cowboy pics of the John Wayne or even Clint Eastwood era and while it is a film that is a chore to sit through in one sitting due to the level of intensity and brutality of the picture, it’s a worthy entry into the genre and one you won’t soon forget, if you manage to take it in.
The stellar cast featuring a truly memorable turn by Sexy Beast’s Ray Winstone (which earned him an award as Best Supporting Actor from the San Diego Film Critics Society) is served well by the Venice Film Festival award winning script along with French cinematographer Benoit Delhomme’s stark photography and the impressionistic editing from Jon Gregory. Nominated for twelve awards from the Australian Film Institute and winning four, The Proposition made director John Hillcoat someone to watch in the future.
Note: as of this review, Hillcoat is said to be attached to an even higher profile feature making the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with Proposition stars Pearce and Huston in talks. No word on whether or not Danny Huston will be cast as another "loser."