I happened to watch last night The Proposition, which some critics have called the Australian Unforgiven. It’s now one of my favorite movies. Both of the main characters, one a law man, the other a criminal, are highly admirable in their own way. The movie speaks to the purpose of the criminal justice system being about prevention rather than vengeance. Have you seen it?
You can thank me after you’ve seen the movie, which speaks to a lot more than the purpose of the criminal justice system, which is currently available for free on Xfinity-On-Demand, and which IMHO is even better than Unforgiven.
After writing the above, I came across Roger Ebert’s review. He gives the movie 4 out of 4 stars and makes a comparison I’d thought of myself, although it seems to me Ebert gets some of the details wrong:
Have you read Blood Meridian, the novel by Cormac McCarthy? This movie comes close to realizing the vision of that dread and despairing story. The critic Harold Bloom believes no other living American novelist has written a book as strong and compares it with Faulkner and Melville, but confesses his first two attempts to read it failed, “because I flinched from the overwhelming carnage.”
SPOILER ALERT! (Don’t read until you’ve seen the movie.) At the end of the movie, Charlie’s brother Mikey is dead, from the wounds inflicted on him by a vicious flogging. Charlie thus has every reason to believe Captain Stanley had horribly welched on their “deal.” (Although Charlie too had welched on their deal, by enlisting his monstrous brother Arthur to bust Mikey out of jail, which resulted in the horrible deaths of Mikey’s jailors.) In fact, although Charlie would have no way of knowing this, Stanley had tried to prevent the flogging. On the other hand, the flogging went forward because of the intercession of Stanley’s wife, although it’s clearly apparent she has a major “change of heart” as she watches the flogging proceed. Mikey’s culpability, and for that matter Charlie’s, for the awful crimes of their older brother Arthur is not clear, although one gathers they were complicit in those crimes and that the hanging Stanley had promised Charlie that Mikey would incur if Charlie didn’t kill Arthur wouldn’t have been “unjust.” At the end of the movie, both Stanley and his wife are at the “mercy” of Arthur. She is about to be raped and both are about to be killed. When Stanley had made his “proposition” to Charlie at the beginning of the movie, and struck Mikey to prove his earnestness, Charlie promised Stanley that if he struck Mikey again Charlie would kill Stanley, a threat that seemed empty and ridiculous at the time. But at the end of the movie, Charlie kills his brother Arthur, telling him “No more,” thereby saving both Stanley and his wife, and thereby keeping up his end of the “deal,” even though Mikey was dead, and even though he had every reason to believe Stanley had killed Mikey (and even though Stanley’s wife was in fact the cause of Mikey’s death).
Although Ebert’s comparison to Blood Meridian is apt, this movie, to my mind, is not quite the “dread and despairing story” that one is.
AFTERTHOUGHT: Rereading the above impresses upon me that I have no future as a movie reviewer. I followed my spoiler alert with a mere statement of facts that someone who’d seen the movie would already be familiar with. Although reducing this movie to a moral doesn’t do it justice, the moral I find in these fictional facts is that vengeance destroys the vengeful, and that if we must stop a man bent on evil we must nevertheless acknowledge him as our brother.