"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville
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July 13, 2006
Australia/UK 2005, Directed by John Hillcoat
Written by Nick Cave
(***) of four
The Western as bleak and pitiless moral wasteland transplanted into the Australian outback, The Proposition
stars Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns, one of three brothers wanted for ruthlessly slaughtering a family. When Charlie and little brother Mikey are captured in the opening shootout, Charlie is given an offer: find and kill his brother Arthur, the leader of the gang, or watch Mikey hang. And so Charlie heads off in search, encountering hostile aborigines and a very
drunk, scenery-chewing John Hurt as Jellon Lamb (who deserved much more screen time than he gets). Ray Winstone excels as Captain Stanley, the officer removed from his comfortable life in England and tossed into this hellish frontier town charged with keeping the peace. He slowly frays as he tries to juggle a nervous, unruly populace, his arrogant, pissy commander, and his fish-out-of-water wife. All demand their own forms of justice and throw scorn at Stanley's methods. Unfortunately, Charlie's motives are much more inscrutable and it's only in the inevitable bloodbath that ends the film that we get a bearing on his code of honor and loyalty (the ending also features an exceedingly ominous use of the prayer "For what we are about to receive, we are truly thankful.") Considering the complete lack of any semblance of happiness in Cave's script, Hillcoat does an admirable job creating an environment evoking this inferno. Sun-drenched and bug-ridden, everyone carries a dour, beaten-down expression, as if his or her mere presence in the town is an implication of guilt. For fans of Westerns and feel-bad dramas, it's a recommended viewing.
The Heart of the Game
US 2005, Directed by Ward Serrill
(** and 1/2) of four
Purely paint-by-numbers, but thankfully there's still a little life left in a well-worn formula. Ward Serrill's documentary chronicles seven years with the Roosevelt High School Roughriders, a girls' basketball team in suburban Seattle. While star player Darnellia Russell provides much of the dramatic momentum with teammate conflicts and a surprising court case that puts her entire last season in limbo, coach Bill Resler gives the film its soul. A tax professor who took the reins of the perennial last-place Roughriders, he introduced a rigorous training program to whip the girls into shape and showed a penchant for team-building metaphors (one season the team's a Pack of Wolves, another a Pride of Lions) and intimidating group cheers (would've liked to see the faces of opposing players' parents when the Roughriders bellow out "Draw blood!") He's the kind of coach you always wished you had as a kid: his enthusiasm and love for the game is infectous and he wins the complete devotion of his team by respecting their personal space and knowing that he's only the coach, but they're the ones out on the court. It's all pleasant and watchable enough, but never transcends its archetype. Serrill spends a lot of time with in-game footage when, after a while, I just wanted to hear more from the girls (same problem with Mad Hot Ballroom
--eventually I wanted to stop watching the kids dance and just leave the camera in a room while they're hanging out). We may have seen the "climactic championship game" dozens of times already, but damn if it doesn't still cause some chills. Sometimes you're just in the mood for something time-tested and easy-to-swallow and The Heart of the Game
answers the call.