There are many reasons to love The Proposition. It's written and scored by the irreplaceable Nick Cave. It's perfectly directed by John Hillcoat. It's both thrilling and strenuous on the heart. And above all else -- it's wonderfully cast, from the monologue-delivering John Hurt to the sadistic charm of Danny Huston's Arthur Burns.
While I appreciated Huston's work well before he headed for the dry grime of the Outback in the 1880s, his stint as the violent sociopath jettisoned him to a whole new level. What was so great about his performance is that while he maintained some of the exuberant charm he's known for, Huston used it as a way to balance the truly sadistic aspects of his character. Without a doubt, Arthur Burns is a dangerous man who does terrible things -- and Huston plays it perfectly -- but that little edge of charm gives the character more depth than is usually awarded to the character we're set up to hate.
While there's no competing with the violence Arthur Burns practices (NSFW), there is one scene that was immediately burned into my memory -- that I go back to again and again. Guy Pearce's Charlie has been given the option to save his imprisoned younger brother by bringing older brother Arthur to justice. Once Charlie catches up Arthur, they have a brotherly chat while the sun sets. Charlie lies to his brother about where the young Mikey is, and Arthur knows it, asking question after question -- one of those cinematic moments where both men know what's between the lines, but the verbal charade continues on.
But the discussion between the two is only half the magic. Between the setting sun and Arthur's solitary shadow standing on a large rock, the visual setting is as important as the words they speak. It's a dance against twilight as Charlie struggles with his anger and love of Arthur, and what it will take to save Mikey, and Arthur gleefully extends the charade of this girl named Molly.