The Proposition

on May 05, 2006 by Joseph McBride
   "The Proposition" is an unholy cross between "Rebecca" and "The Thorn Birds": A novelist (Madeleine Stowe) trapped in a sterile marriage (literally and figuratively) with a domineering rich man (William Hurt) falls madly in love with a randy priest (Kenneth Branagh). As if that weren't enough, she suspects her husband of murdering a young man (Neil Patrick Harris) they've hired for stud service. It sounds like ripe material for parody, but most of the humor is unintentional, at the clumsy hands of director Leslie Linka Glatter, whose sepulchral style negates any hope for a mood of delirious romantic abandon.
   Screenwriter Rick Ramage never begins to address the flagrant contradictions involved in his tediously convoluted story, set in 1935 on Boston's posh Beacon Hill. Why would a supposedly advanced feminist thinker remain so passively under the thrall of a cold, paternalistic blueblood who has no scruples about doing business with Nazi Germany? If the couple is so sexually avant-garde that they hardly blink about hiring a stranger to impregnate her, why haven't they heard of artificial insemination? Is Ramage too busy studying Colleen McCullough to read Kitty Kelley's "The Royals"?
   The film's difficulty in blending disparate elements is reflected in the two wildly divergent titles it previously bore, "Shakespeare's Sister" and "Tempting Fate." Calling it "The Proposition" is intended to underscore the lurid parts, but there's little genuine eroticism in the genteel Stowe's perfunctory couplings with Harris or in the guilt-ridden Branagh's furtive attempts at bodice-ripping. If the husband had been played with a darkly powerful sexual magnetism, the story might have come alive, but Hurt is a disastrous casting choice, souring the screen with his prune-like visage and mumbling monotony. The only bright spot is Blythe Danner's subtly sinister portrayal of a Yankee version of "Rebecca's" housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.    Starring Kenneth Branagh, Madeleine Stowe, William Hurt, Neil Patrick Harris and Robert Loggia. Directed by Leslie Linka Glatter. Written by Rick Ramage. Produced by Ted Field, Diane Nabatoff and Scott Kroopf. A Polygram release. Romantic drama. Rated R for some sexual content. Running time: 112 min.
Tags: marriage, infidelity, priest, murder, Boston, period piece, Nazi, sex, Madeleine Stowe, Kenneth Branagh, William Hurt, Neil Patrick Harris, Leslie Linka Glatter, Robert Loggia

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