The Proposition is a Western through and through. No need for modifiers like anti or post-modern or whatever. It sits squarely in the tradition that William S. Hart started embodying in the teens with his "good bad man" (see: Hell's Hinges) - the emblematic photo of Hart has him sitting at a table with the bible on one end and a whiskey bottle on the other. Wilderness v. Civilization, etc. This is not new. Guy Pearce is this man in The Proposition, member of the Burns gang, one brother a violent psychopath, the other an idiot. The proposition is such: if he kills the psychopath, the idiot will be spared execution. This proposal is made by the embodiment of civilization, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), who with his wife Martha (Emily Watson) have built a nice English home in the middle of the Australian desert, complete with garden. Stanley says repeatedly how he's going to civilize the town. But they shut themselves off from the wilderness, and so will inevitably be sullied by it. They live in hermetic bliss, importing furniture, Christmas trees, tea cups. The Western will not abide this. One must adapt to the terrain, sublimating violent impulses into building a community. Ignoring the violence outside only invites doom. This is what Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine succeeds in, and what Stanley's rudderless Captain fails to do. Because while Stanley has the ideals, he never seems to really buy into them - talking the talk but cutting loose whenever the going gets tough. He sweats a lot.
Guy Pearce's Charlie has found this middle path, albeit the hard way - after witnessing his brother Arthur's brutal rape and murder of a prominent family - he spirits his brother Mikey away to a no man's land -which is where Stanley lays his claim. Arthur is untamed wilderness - instinctive, violent - the aborigines say he turned into a dog. Charlie embodies a way out. His is not a project of community though, his figure harkens to Leone's Eastwood (he rarely talks) and Boetticher's Scott, those upright loners who solve their own business because they discovered society fucks them up too.
All three Western templates meet up at the end, and it ends in the only way it can, civilization survives, bloody and beaten, untamed wilderness is tamed, and the lone man walks off into the sunset. The archetypes fulfill their destiny, and it's a hugely satisfying ending.
It seems like the entire film is filmed during sunset - the palette of reds and yellows dominating throughout, and characters constantly pausing to admire it's fall - man's inhumanity to man not meaning shit to nature, of course.
Other things to enjoy: John Hurt's batshit cameo as bounty hunter "Jellon Lamb", slagging the Irish and dying the most graceful death in the film. Wonderful facial landscapes abound - my favorite being the sniggering mustachioed guard - whose anorexic-looking childish love of violence could fit in perfectly with the gallery of rogues at the end of Lang's M.
Nick Cave's mournful score was also choice - the wonderful sound edit from the wistful melody at the Stanley home to the dissonant guitar jangling of the Burns gang arriving at the climax was fabulously melodramatic.
I'm not down with the voice-over whispering poesy of Pearce's interior monologue though. The thoughts of such a silent man should be kept to himself.