From singer and songwriter to novelist and screenwriter, Nick Cave has always got something interesting to say. It was when I was a film student living in San Francisco that I first stumbled upon his work, at a small movie theater on California Street where the cable car stops. It was late 2005 and The Proposition had just been released.
The Proposition is a western, set in the Australian outback, that is both savage and contemplative. It immediately had my attention with the opening credits of black and white photographs, showing us outlaws, thugs, and aboriginal men looking their best to be dignified. But can one ever civilize what is not meant to be civilized? The film is about a middle brother (Guy Pearce), hunting down his eldest brother, in order to save his youngest brother. Already the stakes are set and the drama is high; will a brother kill another brother in order to save his more beloved brother? And then what happens when the savagery of other men get in the way? The end result of forcing a man to do something that he does not want to do, or be something that he does not want to be, is a tornado of violence and savagery. And that is exactly what we witness in The Proposition.
Seven years later, and just one month ago, came Lawless. This crime story set in 1930’s prohibition is also about three brothers. The youngest brother wishes to achieve the status and respect of his two older brothers in their small time, county wide bootlegging business, but he’s not made of the same hardboiled “stuff”. Sure, the kid’s got heart and a mind for innovation, but not the hands to pull a trigger, or wield a cleaver, or wrap a pair of brass knuckles around a man’s jaw. He’ll stop at nothing, short of getting himself killed, to prove to himself and his older brothers that he is that man. But what if he’s pitted against the meanest son-of-a-bitch this Nebraska county has ever seen? That’s when Special Agent Charlie Ranks (Guy Pearce) enters the picture. Ranks was raised on the violent streets of Chicago and brought into this hick Nebraska town to shut down the moonshiners for good. Now what’s a boy who’s never shot a man to do then, huh…?
Do you recognize a common story thread between both films (besides Guy Pearce playing great characters in both)? Yes, you’re absolutely right; a trio of brothers, loyal and devoted to one another. They don’t always agree and their behavior may differ greatly, but they are bound by blood and family. The eldest brother influences the younger brothers until they mature and discover their own direction. These little tales are both bitter and sweet, told from a back drop that is both violent and dangerous. But after all the violence and savagery clears, there is a moment of contemplative silence that makes you sit back in your seat and ask, “Strange how the world can sometimes be sad, yet comforting…why is that?”
Thank you Nick Cave and keep up the good work.