The Burns Gang, three brothers, recently attacked some family, raped and killed a pregnant woman. I don’t know about you but I’m against it and in fact so is middle brother Charlie (Guy Pearce) who was so offended he decided to take little brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) and run off. But of course it’s those two remorseful brothers that have been captured by Ray Winstone now, not the ringleader Arthur (Danny Huston). Since we didn’t see the attack we don’t know for sure how guilty they are or how much of a chance they had to stop it, but Winstone seems to believe this Arthur is the guy to get. So he takes Mikey, lets Charlie go, says I’m gonna kill little brother on Christmas Day unless you kill older brother. That’s the proposition.
This is a western, but it takes place in Australia. I’m not familiar with the geography of Australia, for all I know this takes place on the East Coast, but oh well. It’s a western.
The director is John Hillcoat, writer/composer is Nick Cave. Together they create a hell of a mood. Nice dirty, sunny look and it’s interesting to have aborigines instead of Indians. You would think spears would do more damage than arrows, but Charlie manages to survive one. So if you are reading this and you are Rambo or Ted Nugent then don’t worry about it, no need to switch to spears.
People have been recommending this to me as a badass picture for a few years now. Everybody has their own definition of ‘badass,’ but personally I think this is some other thing that’s also good. Pearce never plays a cool ass kicker. He’s always some sensitive troubled type individual who genuinely hates violence. He only uses it quickly to end this shit and it doesn’t seem like he’ll do it again. This isn’t really a movie about badasses. It’s about family and what happens when the only family you have is psychotic. Don’t you still sort of feel bad for them? Charlie watches a sunset with Arthur and has a chance to push him off a cliff. But just then Arthur turns around and says “Mikey deserves better. You did the right thing taking off.” How’s he supposed to kill him after that?
And you honestly don’t know what choice he’ll make now. Does he choose younger brother over older? Does he try to save both brothers? I mean it’s easy to see a movie arguing “family is more important than anything else” or you could see it saying to turn in the killer. If he kills people he’s not a real brother anyway.
It also has another theme relevant to These Time We’re Livin In (TTWLI). By consorting with one Burns Ray Winstone’s playing with fire, it’s like the way intelligence agencies work with terrorist double agents or how our government has “friendly dictators” they choose to see as good guys as long as it’s convenient. Winstone strongly believes in his proposition and gets raked over the coals for it by a prissy higher-up who manipulatively allows Winstone’s wife (Emily Watson) to overhear them arguing so she knows her husband made a deal with a guy who was there when her pregnant friend was raped.
The movie cleverly lets you see Winstone and Pearce as good guys without exactly endorsing this approach to law enforcement. Winstone admits he may have made a mistake, he just wanted her to be safe, he knows nothing about justice. And it backfires: Arthur Burns comes to get him, which he wouldn’t have done if Charlie wouldn’t have come and told him Mikey was about to be hanged.
The scene with the most powerful statement is also about the complexities of justice. Pissed about the proposition the captain decides Mikey should get 100 lashes. He makes a speech about Mikey being bloodthirsty as we can ironically hear Mikey’s cries of terror in the background. The crowd, including Emma Watson, do not seem bloodthirsty, but maybe a little satisfied that this guy will be punished. Then, as they watch him get whipped over and over, their faces start to look more and more disturbed. Finally the scene seems to be over as the whipman squeezes blood from the whip, a horrible sight. But then you realize he’s only on 38! Watson almost pukes, then faints instead.
So there’s alot of interesting subtext in this one but when it comes down to it it’s a western. The reason you like it is because of the sun and the shadows and the sound of wind blowing through the bulletholes in rickety walls. And the spears instead of arrows. I would like to see them riding kangaroos instead of horses but you can’t have everything. Anyway, way to make a Western, Australia. I look forward to this director taking a shot at Cormack McCarthy’s THE ROAD.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.