Remember how I just reviewed True Grit? Remember how I said I don’t really like Westerns? Well, this is one of the exceptions. For as much as I don’t even really like Westerns now, when I first saw this movie a few years ago, I had even less of an interest. I was still big into Guy Pearce because he was riding the awesomeness of L.A. Confidential, Ravenous, and Memento, which made me more apt to check this out. And the fact that Nick Cave had written the script is something I was pretty excited about too, mostly because I liked that “Red Right Hand” song. Plus I think I bought this movie before ever even seeing it because I really needed to complete the Blockbuster “4 DVDs for $20” deal. Oh boy, remember DVDs? The 2000’s were a strange, strange time.
Come on, Guy! Eat a fucking sandwich!
Guy Pearce plays Charlie Burns, an outlaw who has been apprehended by the law, along with his younger brother Mikey Burns, played by Richard Wilson. The Captain who has arrested him, played by Ray Winstone, offers Charlie a deal. If Charlie gets his older brother, Arthur, played by Danny Huston, and kills him, then Captain Stanley will allow Charlie and his brother to go free. If he doesn’t, then he will hang Mikey on Christmas day. Charlie finds this to be an interesting “proposition”, and goes out in search of his older brother. While Charlie is on the road, Captain Stanley’s boss order that Mikey be punished for his crimes, despite the deal Stanley made with Charlie. This involves Mikey receiving 100 lashes, and after refusing to do so, Captain Stanley is fired, and Mikey receives the lashes anyway.
That’s GOTTA hurt!
While Charlie is in search of his brother Arthur, he encounters a bounty hunter who is in search of the Burns gang, as well as aborigines, who happen to spear him in a cave. Right before passing out from the spear, he sees the person who speared him’s head explode by gunshot. He wakes up to see his brother, Arthur, is the one who helped him. Arthur learns of the deal, and decides to break Mikey out of prison. As Charlie, Arthur, and the rest of the gang break Mikey from prison, Charlie takes Mike away while Arthur stays behind to murder the remaining guards. The injuries sustained during the lashings were too severe for Mikey and he dies in Charlie’s arms. After burying him, Charlie goes back into town to check in with Captain Stanley, only to see that Arthur has severely beaten Stanley and another man is raping Stanley’s wife. After Arthur invites Charlie to take part in the violent revenge for Mikey’s death, Charlie shoots the man raping Stanley’s wife point-blank in the head, and shoots Arthur in the stomach. Arthur stumbles out of the house, only to have Charlie tell Stanley he is going to join his brother, and Charlie follows a trail of blood to see Arthur sitting in the dirt. The film ends with the two brothers, one of them about to die, looking at the sunset.
More movies need scenes where characters look at the sunset and lament everything about human existence.
Pretty brutal, huh? The acting in this was great, and between Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, and Danny Huston, it’s hard to pick one great performance over the others. The landscape of the Australian outback was captured beautifully, and the script was extremely well complemented by the soundtrack, written and performed by Nick Cave, along with Warren Ellis. No, not that comic book Warren Ellis, a different Warren Ellis. The story itself might not seem to stand out from other Westerns, but it’s the overall bleak disposition of all of these characters. Nobody seems to enjoy their existence, no matter what side of the law they’re on. In particular, seeing Captain Stanley and his wife being so secluded and shut off from any semblance of a large population, especially after he was fired and ostracized, made it seem like suicide would be more enjoyable than the lives they had. Everything was sun-baked, flies were buzzing everywhere, and nobody seemed comfortable. The only moments that anyone seemed to actually enjoy were the moments the sun was rising and when it was setting, because for those brief moments you could forget about your life and just absorb the idea of life without people and the awful things they could do to one another.
Wolfman Moon Scale