Great westerns have always wrestled with moral issues. John Ford’s The Searchers tackles racism; Howard Hawks’s Red River, loyalty; Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, honor; Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, revenge; Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, redemption.
The low-budget Australian film The Proposition, directed by the little-known John Hillcoat and written by the celebrated rock musician Nick Cave, may not be in the same league as those (few films are), but it is certainly squatting around the same campfire. It heaps one ethical dilemma on top of another until we are not sure who the good guys are.
The demanding tale plays out in 1880 Australia, in the dusty and fly-infested outback where law and order is just beginning to take hold and bushrangers (Irish outlaws) are clashing with aboriginal people.