Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Proposition

'We went to see "The Proposition"... it was written by Nick Cave... he told me it was going to be violent... I think he thought it wasn't as fast-paced as it could have been... What's that? He's stopped taking drugs? Ha ha. Yeah, I think he does have a family now...'

You're right, my sweet, of course you are. People with young children shouldn't take drugs, should grow up, set an example. But this isn't people: this is Cave. Who on drugs gave us 'The Mercy Seat', 'And The Ass Saw The Angel', 'From Her To Eternity'; off them, 'God Is In The House' and 'The Boatman's Call'. Cave should do drugs. Art trumps life, you can't have it both ways. It's also true to say that Cave does set an example: the ostentatious displays of notebooks (see: the inner sleeve of 'Let Love In' for a piano drowned in paper), the hard graft of turning out new record after new record, of which he is almost as proud as of the records themselves. The marathon live shows, the punishment to which he subjects his knees, jumping and landing on them in a devotional fury. This is some work ethic. This is some self-belief.

For a long time prior to the release of the reassuringly great 'Abattoir Blues' / 'The Lyre of Orpheus' there was something wrong, at least to my ears. Those Cave moments, so ridiculously over the top, so vital and so laughable, were gone, as he went about the business of becoming a respected musician. He turned in 'Nocturama' and it seemed that the best we could hope for from him was a caricature of what had gone before. 'Babe, I'm On Fire', whilst a blast and possibly the moment he realised he wanted to be Cave again, was strangely pointless, a nonsense song. The second 'Get Ready For Love' hit my stereo though I breathed again, knew it wasn't so. It should have been obvious: Cave's too vain to pander to anything but his own ego for too long. But it was too long.

Now we've got him back, the wretch, the loverman, the stripper, now comes the question: can he genre-hop as spectacularly as he did with his novel back in '90? Can he wrench a Western from the earth and drag us back down with it, into the bowels of the Earth, the entrails of human depravity? 'And The Ass Saw The Angel' managed something similar, being 'Henry's Dream' writ large (and 'Henry's Dream' wasn't exactly writ small), containing all the squalor, rain, freaks, rain, murders, thunder, lightening, degradation and rain you could ever want. The man can write. What the fuck was a Nick Cave film going to be like?

It starts well: a stake out in a brothel. Bullets fly, people die, with sickening thuds and liberal helpings of the production's dark syrupy stock of fake blood exploding all over the place ('A bloody halo like a think bubble circling his head'). From behind wooden slats a scorching sun pours in through ever more numerous bullet holes (all perfectly round), and things look bleak for our low life heroes Charlie and Mike Burns. The victor of this stand off, Captain Stanley, huffs and puffs, administers a few blows and puts his Proposition to Charlie. In order to save Mike from the gallows, he must track down and kill his other brother, Arthur. This much you can get from the trailer. So far so promising.

There is a lot to enjoy here: John Hurt's vile bounty hunter; the terrific outback scenery (makes it feel a bit like 'Walkabout', but maybe I haven't seen enough outback films); the camera's focus on Martha Stanley's naked bathing back shifting to her hands as she lifts them out of the water, describing to her husband a dream she's had about a dead friend and her unborn child; a group of captured Aboriginals howling like dogs as they tell a frustrated Captain Stanley lies about Arthur Burns' whereabouts ('he... grew long hairy ears, and turned into a dog. Ooooooo!'); Captain Stanley running smack into a door instead of opening it first, startled by an early morning shot outside his house. But I came out slightly underwhelmed. It wasn't the pace exactly that disappointed, but this is a tale of vengeance, and a certain sense of horrible inevitability is missing. Captain Stanley spends too long at home with his wife, being scared, being thankful how relatively normal their family life is when they'd fully expected to be murdered in their beds. For an officer who began the film by rising above the law, taking it into his own hands in the interests of retributive justice, it's quite a come down. He should be an avenging dark angel, and so much of the time he seems like a harassed bureaucrat.

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