Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone) lives with his fair-skinned wife Martha (Emily Watson) in the sun-baked Australian Outback during the late 1800s. Though he is determined to "civilize this land," it soon becomes clear, to everyone except perhaps to him, that this may not be possible. And when the Burns brothers, Charlie (Guy Pearce), Mikey (Richard Wilson) and Arthur (Danny Huston) heartlessly murder a local family, the soft sweet civilized world seems far away indeed. The immediate reality is "repellent," as Lane notes, "flies like pustules on the hats and backs of the townsmen, blood being squeezed from the thongs of the whip like water out of a mop."
The film's title refers to a scheme that Captain Stanley devises after he and his men capture the two youngest Burns brothers, Charlie and Mikey, after a gunfight with the bushrangers. Arthur, the eldest brother and the gang's mastermind, remains at large and has retreated to a mountain hideout. Capt. Stanley's proposition to Charlie is to gain pardon and more importantly save his beloved younger brother Mike from the gallows by finding and killing Arthur within nine days.
"What ensues," adds Lane, "is a strange blend of manhunt and tone poem, in which even the most brutal characters seem rapt in the fact of red earth and endless sky."
Meanwhile, Stanley has other problems to deal with, including mounting pressure from renegade Aborigines and his superior, Eden Fletcher, to bring order to the region. Who is "good" and who is "bad" is hard to clearly define in this violent and bloody struggle set in the stark landscape of the Australian Bush and the lives of the Burns brothers intersect with Stanley's own.
This presentation of The Telluride Film Festival will be particularly vivid on the big screen. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. at the Nugget Theater, on Thursday, July 20. Tickets are $8. (No Nugget Passes, please.) The film runs 104 minutes and is rated R for strong, grisly violence, and for language.