An entirely different kind of Christmas story, this is a dour and vicious Australian Western that, along with Tommy Lee Jones’ The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and HBO’s Deadwood series, achieves a kind of stark poetic beauty.
Written and scored by musician Nick Cave, a master of the gothic murder ballad, and directed by John Hillcoat, the picture tells the story of a lawman, Capt. Stanley (Ray Winstone), who is determined to civilize a pocket of the untamable outback for his wife, Martha (Emily Watson). To that end, he has captured two of three bushranger brothers responsible for the rape and murder of a family, and offers freedom to the youngest brother if the middle one Charlie (Guy Pearce) will seek out and kill or capture the oldest of the siblings, Arthur (Danny Huston). Arthur lives in a remote cave with a young killer, an aboriginal, a dingo and a woman, and he’s managed to achieve a kind of Kurtzian awareness, a violent mixture of brilliance and madness. Huston is charming and scarily unpredictable, a rare combination.
For once, the deleted scenes in the DVD edition add depth to the story, especially concerning the relationship between Capt. Stanley and his wife. The interviews with the cast are smart and insightful when discussing Australia’s bloody history and the filmmaker’s reconsidered depiction of the aboriginals. The voiceover track for the picture with Hillcoat and Cave is a little dry, and Hillcoat’s offhanded description of filmmaking as “pissing on a tree in the wind” is a bit irksome. Despite what Hillcoat says about the movie being designed for a big screen, it works really well as a DVD.