Wednesday, 12 October 2005

The Proposition, a very bad movie.

The Proposition: brilliant Emily Watson, genius Nick Cave, wanted to like it so much, blah, etc. But as the evening wore on, heads were hacked off, fies buzzed, Guy Pearce's cheekbones jutted, John Hurt bit off and swallowed enormous chunks of scenery, rose and lilac and amber sunsets blazed and faded to nothing, and the inescapable conclusion dawned..... bloody awful film.

Basically, it is a garbled, emptyheaded rip-off / mash-up of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith lashings of Apocalypse Now and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and, unforgivably, great huge swathes of Dead Man. I really hate that kind of thing. To lift chunks out of earlier movies, not to mention totally famous earlier movies, and just dump the chunks entirely undigested into yours, is as good as saying you think your audience is not as clever as you are and they won't notice or care that all the magpie bits and pieces of your film don't match each other. Actually there is stuff in The Proposition that can really only be described as plagiarism. I'm sure it doesn't break any laws. But if I were Jim Jarmusch I'd be looking at this movie going "what the....?" The issue is not the copying - imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. If I was making some kind of melodramatic gothic Western, which is what The Proposition wants to be, I'd be looking pretty hard at Dead Man too. But you can't just take some random bit you like - say the scene where Iggy Pop and Billy Bob Thornton et al are discussing what a Philistine is - and wedge it into some gap in your own film - like the part where Danny Huston et al are discussing what a Misanthrope is. In Jarmusch's film, the conversation is an organic, integrated part of the whole story concerning those characters. It encapsulates and crystallises a chain of insights and revelations starting from the tiny and weird dynamics of that bizarre little 'family,' right up to the place of fire and brimstone religion in Frontier mythology. Also it's bloody funny. In the movie we saw last night, I'm sorry, but it's just some pretty-sounding words to say in front of a photogenic setting sun. Danny Huston says them gloriously. But, nothing in the movie explains how he learned about misanthropy, or why he thinks of it at this moment, or why it's an idea that seems to matter to him when he's the character in the film with the most comrades and associates.

What brief snatches of proper reviewers' commentaries on the film I've encountered have said, bewilderingly, that it is intelligent and observant about both Aboriginality and the Australian landscape. Putting aside for the moment the big problems arising from positing some kind of simple unexamined connection between the two subjects (although it is a connection the movie urges us to make), I'm disappointed at the devastatingly low expectations that judgement would seem to imply. I mean, I am sceptical about Australian movies, and not specially well versed in them, but even I can think of at least four films, two old and two fairly new, that look about a thousand times better and have a considerably less cartoonish grip on race relations in this country. Just in terms of what I have heard said about the movie making the Australian country look good: what a crock. People, Australia is beautiful. You have to work hard to make it look bad. You have to do things like not worry too much about achieving clean clear focus, about catching rich warm daylight and soft grey twilight, or about letting the film soak up all the richness and depth and softness and delicacy of colour. Don't bother framing your shots so the space feels real and not like a backcurtain, or joining them together so as to show how people really move across the earth. Concentrate instead on collecting some postcard scenery and arrange your actors in front of it so they look really cool / scary / dramamtic / profound.

David Wenham was utterly atrocious in the twisting-round-in-your-seat-with-shame-and-emabarrassment way that only a basically good actor gone psychotically, epically, cosmically wrong can ever achieve. The movie really got bad when he walked in. And it's emblematic of the root problem with the film that I can't figure out what his character was actually for in the first place. There were at least two potentially decent movies buried inside the script of this film. One about the gang, the three brothers and their Robber-King leader all holed up in the mullock-heap mountain ranges, singing each other sad irish ballads and reading Bronte novels and Origin of Species by camp fire light. The other was just about Emily Watson and Ray Winstone, who were both remarkable, and even more remarkable together. If I were James Agee I'd nominate the scene with Watson guiding cramped, tense, exhausted Winstone to lie down, sideways, upside down, on the edge of their narrow brass bed, as place where the movie redeems itself and pays us back for two and a half hours of incoherence and dumbness. But I'm not James Agee, so I'll just say The Proposition is a failure.


Cozalcoatl said...

Ahh well
I quite liked it.

Kate said...

Going to see it tomorrow night. I'm a bit concerned... hmmn.

Lucy Tartan said...

Don't let me put you off. I'm not to be trusted.

I've read a few more reviews today, and I'm starting to think that the reviewers are loving it because it's Nick Cave. I sympathise with that, but it doesn't change anything, not for me.

R H said...

You say you are not to be trusted, but can we trust you to be truthful about that?
Are you having us on?
Well yes, maybe some of us, but not me. I've summed you up. Completely. You have a Sunday-roast sensibility, and a predilection for floral-patterned carpet.

(*Social commentator)

*Laugh all you like, I get paid for it.

R H said...

But mind you, looking grave and intelligent all the time is hard work.

Tony.T said...

You know something: I have an original version of Night of the Hunter signed by John Huston with a note to James Agee. He calls him Jim.

I just thought I'd share that.

Lucy Tartan said...

Tony, I am dead impressed. The novel is not easy to find anywhere let alone with an inscription like that. Is there anything else written inside, marginalia of any kind? Do you think Agee used it writing the screenplay?

I was about to offer a few pitiful anecdotes about who owned some of my secondhand books before me, but I won't even bother now.

Now here is a Theory Nerd Alert:
Scott of Acephalous, in the blogroll there, ----> posted a couple of days ago about having lent his personal self-annotated copy of Hardt and Negri's Empire, through an intermediary, to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (postcolonial theorist, translator of Derrida, etc). The book was returned with what appeared to be Spivak's comments on Scott's notes. To his credit Scott did not instantly hyperventilate himself into the emergency ward....

Tony.T said...

You never lend your books. That is madness.

I'm at work at the moment so I can't give you the words verbatim, but it's a short note about the book containing some good ideas.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen it yet, but that is a bloody good provocative review.

I love it when someone pricks the balloon of a travelling fog of approval, and gives reasons. It makes the whole discussion much more multidimensional.

For what its worth, I'll drop a link onto Screen Hub.

- barista

Tony.T said...

Oh, and I bought it at a second-hand bookshop on the Charing Cross Rd in January 1991.

Ampersand Duck said...

Really interesting to read about this. I'd decided not to see it after seeing numerous shorts, and just from them I could work out that David Wenham seemed to be basing his character on Richard Roxborough's hammy Duke in Moulin Rouge.

The review I heard on Deep End last week or so said that the film uses Aborigines well until they are no longer necessary and then drops them like hot cakes.

Cozalcoatl said...

The movie uses everyone, kills them and drops them like hotcakes.

I liked the starkness, the unrelenting misery of it all.
Came out of it, thinking how awesome my life really is.

I really liked your review, you know way more about Australian movies and their elements than i do. I agreed with you in some bits, but i liked it. I'm simple that way in that i can state a few reasons why but its easier to say "i liked it"....i'm listening to Nick Cave now so i'm bias..;)

Kent said...

Harsh. I totally disagreed with you on Downfall so perhaps this film is for me.

Arty said...

I still can't figure out what David Wenham's voice was supposed to be, he sounded like Stimpy.

The Student said...

Didn't this have Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore in it?

Kate said...

Okay, finally saw it, and I agree. Failure. Bloody, violent, unpleasant failure.

Brownie said...

*lol* Tony: Dear Jim, this book has some good ideas. I reckon every jumped up little pseud from Yonkers to yarraville (including Tracy Pew RIP) will get LOVE and HATE tattooed on his fingers. love Husty.