Take no notice, none whatsoever, of anyone telling you to see John Hillcoat‘s The Proposition (First Look, 5.5), under the guise of it being one of the year’s best films. It’s an exercise in grungy outlaw sadism. What gives it a certain dignity is a moral undercurrent about compromise and making bargains with the devil and doing terrible things in the name of personal freedom. But the real subject, for me, was about how grueling it is to watch an Australian period western in which you don’t give a shit about the characters because all you can think about is how they all need a bath and a shave. (The women included.) This is one of those films in which the actors all have rotten teeth and look like they’ve been covered in chicken grease and had animatronic lice put into their hair. It’s a visually distinctive film, yes, but in the way that a rotting dead horse lying in a glaring desert sun with flies buzzing around is distinctive. I blew off The Proposition last September at the Toronto Film Festival (the word was on the dismissive side) but caught up with it at the American Cinematheque three or four months ago. That is, I wanted to catch up with it, but before the showing I was told by a distributor who was a friend of the producers that unless I promised not so write anything I would be thrown out. “But everyone saw it in Toronto,” I replied, not really caring one way or the other (I was assuming it was probably a problem movie). But now that it’s coming out on DVD next month (following a brief theatrical release on 5.5) and now that certain parties have praised it to the heavens, I think it’s fair to say that after watching The Proposition for 30 minutes I was thinking seriously about leaving. I stuck it out (and it was agony) only because the producers and that distributor guy were sitting near me and I didn’t want to worsen relations by walking out. There’s a moral to the story (the screenplay is by Nick Cave) but I didn’t want to hear it. Will the grimy and unshaven Pearce take the deal offered by the filthy and unshaven Ray Winstone to kill his outlaw brother, the extra-grimy and grease-covered Danny Huston, in order to gain his freedom? More important to me was my own. I wanted to escape that theatre but I was stuck…no way out. Then another half hour passed and I couldn’t take it. I felt as if those flies were flying right off the screen and into the Egyptian and settling on me. So I left, and I haven’t felt as good about leaving a film since I walked out of Eight-Legged Freaks. No need to worry about Pearce, Winstone, Huston or costar Emily Watson…their careers will be okay. Hillcoat and Cave will most likely be fine too, especially with certain critics saying what a great film it is.