While the title may off-handedly sound like slang for being aroused (as in: “Oooh, I’m feeling a bit quigley, down under!”), this 90’s crack at the good old fashioned western was made during a period when that most American of genres was soundly buried with it’s boots on. A charming attempt by Lonesome Dove director Simon Wincer to put a novel spin on the usual cowboys and six shooters, Quigley sees the traditional cliches of the western relocated to the Australian outback, a place where the kangaroo roam free and many of the same Western sterotypes exist but with noticably different accents (sort of).
Matthew Quigley, a gifted marksman who’s impressive talent is bolstered even further by a tricked out rifle, has accepted a lucrative job offer from limey ranch owner Elliott Marston who owns a substantial amount of land in Australia during the time of British rule. Immediately getting into trouble after three months at sea, Quigley finds himself unwittingly fighting the very men sent to collect him over the honor of an eccentric woman known as Crazy Cora – a chatty lady with a noticable case of dissociation disorder who seems to be two cows short of a cattle drive. Taking her under his wing on the three day ride to the Marston ranch, Quigley soon endears himself to his new boss but when he finds out he’s been hired to shoot the local aboriginal population whenever they trespass on Marston’s land, he responds by throwing his employer through his own window.
Eventually overwhelmed by Marston’s workforce of morally questionable men, both Quigley and Cora are taken out into the Outback to die but manage to escape and are nursed back to health by an aborigine tribe. Vowing to put an end to Marston by shooting as many of his men from 900 yards away as he can, Quigley strives to protect the noble aborigines while also keeping an eye on the increasingly more vunerable Cora who is harbouring a fairly tragic past, and soon the stage is set for matters to be satisfied with a good old fashioned quick draw, shoot off.
Pretty much from the outset it becomes fairly obvious that despite the big twist that this is a Western that’s not actually located in the old west, it’s actually VERY much like every typical Cowboy movie you’ve ever seen, with the evil rancher now being British and the role of the put upon Native Americans being under-studied by the Aborigines.
However, in this day and age Quigley unfortunately seems to come across as having quite the “white saviour” complex as it’s very caucasian hero blows away very caucasian villians in order to protect a helpless, indigenous race from violent tyranny. Yes, the film may have been made with good intentions, but it’s worth pointing out that while the aborigines are shown as a peaceful people, not a single one of them actually has a personality or a role to play other than their sole purpose to be killed or saved by people born on a while other continent. Seen from this respect, scenes where they’re shot for trespassing or herded off a cliff like animals seem pretty callous and only cheapen the lives of the people it’s trying to help… Bloody do-gooders….
Awkward politics aside, Quigley Down Under is quite a decent ride. Tom Selleck, sporting a Sam Elliot moustache that would make the gang from Friends soak their undies, plays the unflappable Quigley with all the suave, gentlemanly nature you’d expect for a man who righted wrongs for eight years in a Hawaiian shirt as Magnum P.I., and the role of a virtuous cowboy suits him pretty good. In comparison, Laura San Giacomo’s motormouthed Cora is quirky and kooky enough to differentiate herself just enough from the other “feisty fillys” you usually find lugging around a metric ton of petticoat in a film like this as her back story proves to be genuinely affecting, even if it’s resolution is a little convenient.
However swaggering in and stealing the film wholesale is the legendary Alan Rickman, who at this point in his career had already almost swiped Die Hard out from under Bruce Willis and was poised to commit grand larceny on the set of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. His caddish Elliot Marstan is a fascinating creation and the future Half-Blood Prince makes him tremendously hissable with every razor edged and tremendously sarcastically caustic word. Obsessed with the Old West (hey, that rhymes) and initially fanboying over Quigley and the world he originates from, the dashing bastard is by far the most interesting thing in the movie and effortlessly overwhelms every other carbon based life form in his orbit – including a stunningly young Ben Mendelsohn who ironically has to deliver an Irish accent despite acting in a film in his own country…
However, likeable actors and perky dialogue aside, despite the fact that Quigley’s antipodean adventure is a quite a jolly little throwback, it’s also a painfully standard adventure that brings nothing particularly new to the genre even though it’s located in a completely different country – in fact the majority of the characters aren’t even Australian and hail from America, England or Ireland… Still, whenever the film seems to (frequently) be at a loss as where to go next, it deploys either some stunning Australian backdrops or a solid blast of Basil (Robocop, Conan The Barbarian) Poledouris’ ribald score – or both – to carry the load; plus, Quigley’s signature firearm is pretty fucking sweet and the outcome to the climatic quick draw is a good class of glib, Western, cool.
But bluntly put, this rootin’, shootin’, long distance shootin’ is a sweet, little throwback to movies gone by, but for most part, Quigley Down Under trots when it should gallop.