Proposition (The) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Palisades Tartan
Review written by and copyright: Tom Williams & Noor Razzak (27th December 2009).
The Film

"The Proposition" is a compelling blend of tragedy and western, a stark film set against the backdrop of the bleak desert of the Australian outback. Guy Pearce plays Charlie Burns, one of the brothers of notorious criminal Arthur Burns (Danny Huston). Seven days before Christmas, Charlie and final brother Mike Burns (Richard Wilson) are captured by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), the outback's new would-be civiliser. Charlie is given an ultimatum: Kill Arthur, or Mike will hang on Christmas Day. As Charlie begins his very personal quest, Captain Stanley faces professional problems as the details of his deal with Charlie begin to surface. It is this sort of duality and contrast that is echoed throughout the film's narrative, technique and theme.

Shots are frequently cut between dark, claustrophobic interiors and the wide expanse of scorching Australian desert. Charlie Burns is in counterpoint to Stanley, caught between a psychotic elder brother as guilty as sin, and a dim-witted, almost innocent younger brother; Stanley is the middleman between the lawlessness of the Australian frontier and the civilisation of England. The message is essentially the dual nature of justice- the complications and intricacies of which are confused as the film continues- Charlie's personal quest begging for our sympathy even though he has committed despicable acts. In fact, the films violent conclusion leaves Charlie asking many of the same questions as us, and it is clear that he has been changed by his experiences.

The performances are all assured and confident. Winstone's Stanley is the pivot around which the film turns, and he delivers an expressive role. His attempts to bring England to Australia create a bubble of naivety in which he attempts to imprison his wife Martha (Emily Watson) while he fools himself into believing he protects her delicate English sensibilities. Ironically, the lawman imprisons his most precious innocent while allowing the guilty Charlie to go free. Watson also delivers the goods as a woman representative of the roses she tries to grow in a picket-fenced garden surrounded by desert- beautiful, but capable of surviving in far harsher climates than one might imagine.

Pearce turns in a performance worthy of Clint Eastwood as Charlie; his gaunt, wiry frame feels like one of the gnarled trees we see growing in the desert- appropriate, as Charlie Burns is as much a creation of Australia's frontier life as anything else in the film. Charlie's moral ambiguity hangs on him like a coat, his stern and silent contemplation of the world and his place in it just another environmental hazard like the searing heat or the spear that is thrown through his chest.

Danny Huston is magnificent as Arthur Burns. His deeply intelligent and totally brutal character is captured in great form in a hairy, dirty frame that is capable of incredible violence that is somehow without malice- almost a personal mission to show humanity that life, like the world, is nasty and brutish. Wilson's turn as Mike Burns is quite capable of being overlooked- although entirely competent in his role as the youngest Burns brother, Mike's character is not compelling enough to be remembered well. Mike is more important as a plot device than a character- but Wilson still turns in a performance worthy of credit. Supporting performances from John Hurt and David Wenham and all the cast are excellent.

"The Proposition" is not an easy film to watch- its violence, especially, can be hard to take, and the pace of the story left me itching to see more, faster- yet by the time the film had finished I was glad it had taken its time. Fans of the Western genre especially should not miss the film, but even those who have less exposure to westerns will probably find something worthwhile from the film.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, this Blu-ray transfer is mastered in VC-1 compression displaying the 1080p 24/fps image. This film is perfectly suited for HD presentation, with the Australian outback in all it's arid glory in full detail here. The image's sharp and textured look holds up throughout the film with true and accurate colors, natural skin tones and deep and bold black levels. The image's depth looks great in 1080p with the film getting the most of the 25GB disc (although it could have benefitted from being mastered onto a 50GB disc). I could not spot any flaws such as edge-enhancement, compression artefacts or other digital noise, it's a gritty film and this transfer shows that off exceptionally well, it's a terrific HD image.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included on this release, all of which are in English. We have a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 also mixed at 48kHz/24-bit and finally a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD sound track. I was pleased with this DTS-HD audio track, dialogue is clear and distortion free (the accents might be a bit hard to understand at times, but you get used to that quickly and pick it up... although Ray Winstone does also tend to mumble a lot... in any case aside from mumbling and accents the dialogue is perfectly presented here. Adding to the overall atmosphere of the film is the ambient sounds which range from subtle breeze and dust billowing to more active environmental sounds. The full sound space is used in full effect here to place viewers amid the action and makes for a totally immersive surround experience. Finally the film's score is well rendered and ever feels overbearing, this audio track is a nice step up from the DVD's standard DTS track and offers much a much wider depth of field.
There are no optional subtitles available on this disc.

Extras

The old Tartan DVD release was a 2-disc affair with a nice collection of extras, this Blu-ray release omits almost all of them leaving only two extras, a featurette and a theatrical trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

The featurette is entitled "The making of The Proposition" running at 27 minutes 10 seconds is surprisingly good, feeling like something we can get our teeth into rather than the usual half-hour-made-for-tv-promotional fare. It does make the critical error of repeating material from the longer feature (or the other way around) which lessens its impact and its appeal- in retrospect, it's the feature I wished I'd watched first, to get me ready for the feature on cast and crew. It is the behind-the-scenes light version, but the passion and charisma of the figures speaking in it make it worth a look.

The film's release theatrical trailer runs for 2 minutes 9 seconds and rounds out the special features, and is exactly what movie trailers normally are.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: C- Overall: A-

 


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