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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 04/23/1998,

The Proposition

Set in our fair town of Boston during the 1930s, The Proposition is a tawdry melodrama about the sibyline, bigger things in life: power, love, faith. William Hurt drones his way through the film as Arthur Barret, a powerful upper-crust attorney and major control freak. At his side is his lovely wife, Eleanor (Madeleine Stowe), a controversial, Virginia Woolf-aspiring novelist and prototypical feminist. To complete their effete lives, the couple decide to have a child, but Arthur isn't quite as fruitful in the bedroom as he is in the courtroom, so they hire a Harvard Law student (Neil Patrick Harris) to sow the seed. The kid does his job, but after Eleanor gives him the lay of his life he keeps coming back for more.

Things are further complicated by Kenneth Branagh's mysterious and troubled priest, who also has a lustful eye for Eleanor. Branagh and Blythe Danner, as the Barrets' housemaid, keep the drama taut with smoldering performances, but about halfway through the film, when someone winds up dead, director Lesli Linka Glatter begins to have delusions of Merchant Ivory and turns the titillating premise into a stilted, cyclical soap opera. At the Chestnut Hill and in the suburbs.

-- Tom Meek