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In the unforgiving landscape of the Outback, Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is presented with an impossible proposition by local lawman Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone): to save his younger brother Mikey from the noose, he must track down and kill Arthur (Danny Huston), his increasingly unhinged older sibling.
A palpable sense of foreboding builds in the oppressive heat, as each character takes on their punishing moral dilemmas and the cycle of violence appears unstoppable.
Newly restored in 4K, director John Hillcoat (The Road, Triple 9) and writer Nick Cave’s modern classic is presented here as a new 4K UHD, along with a Blu-ray disc featuring new and archive extras.
BFI presents John Hillcoat’s The Proposition on 4K UHD in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on the first triple-layer disc of this two-disc set. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition presentation with Dolby Vision is sourced from a new 4K restoration conducted by the BFI, scanned from the super 35mm original negative. Despite being a UK release the 4K disc is, of course, region free, playing back without issue on my North American Panasonic UB820K player. The release also comes with a second standard Blu-ray disc that houses most of the release's special features. Sadly, that disc is locked to region B and North American viewers will require a player that can playback region B content. The release does not include a 1080p presentation of the film, BFI choosing to release a separate Blu-ray edition instead.
Despite the fact that, yes, the film is now around 17 years old, it’s not one that I would have pegged as needing a new restoration of any sort any time soon, but low and behold BFI have gone out of their way to perform one and the end results look just wonderful. The biggest improvement, by far, is probably in the rendering of the film's colours, the grading overseen by Hillcoat and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme. It’s not a “colourful” film per se, limited mostly to browns and beiges when all is said and done, but they take on a bolder, golden-like hue here. There are beautiful pops of red (usually tied to blood splattering about) while the sky features gorgeous blues, and sunsets stir up deep oranges and very subtle but rich violets. In comparison to the North American Blu-ray, which is a bit dated but not that shabby, the colours are far richer, offering up significantly more depth and range.
Details are also far sharper in comparison to the Blu-ray, especially in the rendering of the grain and the many, many flies that pop up throughout the film. The vast landscape has never looked as great as it does here, while close-ups on faces present every bit of stubble and every granule of dirt. A handful of shots can look a bit softer compared to the rest of the film, but since the grain is still rendered sharply and cleanly, I suspect it has to do with the original elements and/or photography.
HDR is a bit subtle here, more notable in allowing a more range in the shadows of the film’s many darker interiors (very noticeable when compared to the older Blu-ray), but outside of that it doesn’t aim to call attention to itself, so to say. Daytime sequences look striking but are not overly bright (thankfully), and even the presence of direct light, like what comes from lit candles that pop up here and there, is mild. The opening, where bullet holes rip light into a darkened room, also keeps things leveled out, though that smoky interior is rendered perfectly. Blacks also come out look cleaner and "purer" in comparison to the Blu-ray, the early Hurt/Pearce scene benefiting especially from this improvement.
Though a few specs still pop-up here-and-there, BFI’s restoration has been incredibly thorough and the film does look brand new. The disc’s encode is also excellent, meaning there are no digital anomalies to report and the end image looks incredibly film-like. It’s sharp looking 4K presentation and an excellent upgrade over the previously available high-def presentations.
(All SDR screen grabs have been taken from the source disc and have been converted to JPG files. They are presented in full resolution and may not properly fit some monitors. While the screen grabs should offer a general idea of quality, they should not be used for reference purposes.)
BFI includes a 5.1 surround soundtrack presented in DTS-HD MA, and a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack. I only listened to the 5.1 soundtrack. It’s a sharp sounding mix, yet again, the opening shoot-out immediately throwing you into things. Bullets whiz by and ricochet about, while people in the background yell and scream. That’s probably the most active moment in the film, but there are still plenty of gunshots to be had, along with sounds from nature. Nick Cave’s intense score also comes booming in when needed, and there is some great use of the lower frequency. I can’t say if this soundtrack offers a drastic improvement over the previous Blu-ray’s, but it’s still a sharp and active one.
BFI throws in a couple of new special features (all of which are found on the 4K UHD disc), starting with a new audio commentary featuring film critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson. As with other tracks of theirs that I have listened to (most recently Arrow’s edition for Claude Chabrol’s L’enfer) they find an interesting focus while managing to keep a nice pace and flow. The track looks at a number of themes found within the film but the two end up placing a special focus on the film as a way of sorting through Australia’s past and the horrors inflicted upon the indigenous population during colonization. They also provide context around the historical period depicted in the film along with what was going on in Australia at the time of the film’s release (2005) and how the film could be seen as a kind of reaction to the political climate. The subject comes up throughout the supplements but gets a far heavier bit of discussion here. Both Heller-Nicholas and Nelson play off of each other nicely, tossing topics back and forth, each sharing their own views, and they also manage to have a bit of fun when appropriate. It's a solid academic inclusion.
BFI has also recorded a new 53-minute conversation between writer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat, which was conducted remotely. Presented over a still gallery of production photos and more, all in 4K, the two reflect back on their early working relationship and Hillcoat’s desire to make a western that was also uniquely Australian. Cave, who was originally brought in to do the score (which he would do) was then asked to write the script when Hillocoat kept getting scripts that ended up being “too American.” Cave then recalls the script-writing process, which was totally new to him (and this portion of the slide show offers up photos of what Cave wrote on hotel stationary), and then the two recall what they can about the production and the actors.
BFI also includes the 2006 audio commentary featuring the two, which does delve into the same material covered in the new interview, so there is a bit of repetition, but the commentary does also allow Hillcoat to delve deeper into the technical aspects of the production, including working around the problems that came with filming in the location's intense heat, where equipment would breakdown. I also enjoyed Cave’s questions around things in the film that weren’t in the script, like why does Pearce have his character take a whiff of his armpits in one scene. Between the track and the new interview I would probably recommend the interview, but the track does end up being more production focussed.
The 4K disc also features a re-release trailer and a 4-minute self-playing still gallery, which offers the photos in 4K.
The second Blu-ray disc (encoded for region B) presents the remaining features, most of which appear to be from previous DVD and Blu-ray editions for the film. A lot of the footage was constructed from what appears to be promotional interviews filmed on set, with the “highlights” edited together for a 27-minute making-of. This material also appears in a series of featurettes organized under two sections: Inside the Proposition and Shooting the Proposition, running 43-minutes and 25-minutes respectively. Interviews with the actors (including Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, David Wenham, John Hurt, David Gulpilil, Tom E. Lewis, Tom Budge, Noah Taylor and more) are more than likely the highlights through all of these featurettes, though if you go through everything you’re going to hear the same stories multiple times (Hurt saying he had the role others said they wanted, Watson and Winstone explaining the backstory they came up with for their characters, stories around the intense heat during shooting, etc.) but I enjoyed listening to them talk about working with each other and how they developed their characters. There are also stories from members of the crew, the best of which come from Pearl Eatts, who helped with the research around the film and making sure the portrayals of both the people and various incidents were correct.
The disc also includes 19-minutes’ worth of B-roll footage showcasing the onset atmosphere and the insane number of flies that were present. In the commentary Cave asks Hillcoat how the scene where Pearce’s character being hit with a spear was a pulled off (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler), the director explaining how it was a lot of different elements that ultimately get edited together. You get to see some of how that was done in this footage along with material from the opening shoot-out, Hurt’s last day of filming, and a scene where soldiers are urinating around a tree, the actors using squeeze bottles filled with a yellow-ish liquid.
BFI then ports over interviews with Pearce and Huston from the old Tartan releases, running 13-minutes and 7-minutes respectively. The two both explain how the came to be in the film with Pearce also getting into how the film was an educational experience for him. Huston also mentions his favourite scene in the film, which was the first scene between Hurt and Pearce.
The disc then closes with the original teaser and theatrical trailers (the latter is just a longer version of the former) along with a 4-minute self-playing gallery presenting costume sketches by Margot Wilson.
This limited edition also comes with a 77-page booklet, which starts off with a detailed account of the film’s production written by director John Hillcoat, which was all at the mercy of the filming location. Andrew Graves then shares his thoughts on the brutal film in a new essay, followed by a reprinting of Hillcoat’s “Notes on Style,” which he wrote before production began in an effort to outline how he saw the film and what needed to be done to get what he wanted, like shooting on location. The booklet then features a lengthy and incredibly in-depth essay on the film’s depiction of colonial 19th-century Australia, examining the film's use of violence, race, family, and so on, written by Catriona Elder. Actor Leah Purcell then provides her own account around when David Gulpilil arrived on set and met Tom E. Lewis. Producer Cat Villers also provides a brief ode to Lewis, who passed away a few years ago. Also included is Dr. Stephen Morgan’s brief essay around the film’s depiction of the treatment of the native population by the “settlers” (providing some historical context in the process), Adrian Martin’s original review for the film, and musician Warren Ellis’ recounting of the creation and recording of the film’s score. It’s a wonderfully put together booklet.
Though most of the material is standard studio fare, it’s all mostly worth going through (despite some repetition) and BFI’s new material—an excellent academic commentary, a great new writer/director interview, and a lengthy booklet—make up for any of the archival material’s shortcomings.
BFI’s UHD special edition delivers a great collection of insightful new supplements and gorgeous looking new 4K presentation. A very easy recommendation.