Quigley Down Under (1990)
Quigley Down Under (1990)

Genre: Adventure and Western Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Release Date: October 19th, 1990 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Simon Wincer Actors: Tom Selleck, Laura San Giacomo, Alan Rickman, Chris Haywood, Tony Bonner, Ron Haddrick, Jerome Ehlers, Roger Ward, Ben Mendelsohn

 


 

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ike a Western iteration of Batman, Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) is seen prepping his gear and strapping on his specialized accoutrements, readying for a journey from California to, quite appropriately, Fremantle, Western Australia. In these opening moments, as he arrives at his destination, Quigley is quickly defined as a proverbial white knight, standing up for an elderly couple, and then for a bedraggled woman, crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo), being harassed in the town square. With minimal character development, it’s evident that this particular hero will never do anything even marginally questionable. Nor will he sit idly by as injustice is carried out, or when insults are slung his way.

And so, shortly after defending Cora’s freedoms, he proceeds (on the back of a wagon) to the distant, isolated estate of Elliott Marston (Alan Rickman), who summoned the talents of Quigley with an advertisement for the greatest long-distance marksman in the world. When he discovers the true nature of the job, however, which includes killing Aborigines – an act known as pacification by force, which is ignored by the local British authorities – he’s understandably appalled. Of course, he can’t be disposed of so easily; nor can he turn back to America while such atrocities continue to take place.

Right from the start, Basil Poledouris’ thundering, upbeat, playful music truly sets the tone for this rip-roaring, dusty adventure. It’s difficult to dismiss the impact that his score has on practically every minute, even during calmer seconds of rest. Another filmmaking technique that works so well here is the careful arrangement of the anticipation and comedy, and how they complement each other. When Quigley’s sharpshooting skills are first put to the test, the scene is rife with cleverness and thrills (from the action-oriented scooping up of a bucket for target practice, to the jumping of a fence by a horse – both small details that add striking movement to an otherwise straightforward moment). And the tinge of humor is absolutely impeccable, as bystanders whisper doubts about his abilities. A few scenes later, the repetition of a character being thrown from his own house is equally amusing, blending tenseness with comedy, and when Quigley struggles, exhaustedly, to take aim at the men who have left him in the desert to die.

Another aspect that so rarely works in pictures like this, but manages to be first-class here, is the creation of the right villain. Selleck’s protagonist is so grandly designed that it would be unforgivable not to have a fitting opponent. And no one is better at multi-faceted villainy than Rickman, who once again assumes the role of the perfect antagonist – as dastardly as he is cunning, and sharply dressed to boot. The scripting by John Hill must also be given credit, as it sets up some spectacular sequences for adventure, suspenseful confrontations, the inevitable yet exhilarating showdown (rivaling the greatest of sporting chances), and a brilliantly triumphant conclusion (a series of ingenious wrap-ups that is easily one of the best of the genre).

With the flavors of “Crocodile Dundee,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and “Dances with Wolves” (coincidentally from the same year), and even a hint of “The English Patient,” “Quigley Down Under” additionally contains an uncommonly affecting romance (thanks to Giacomo’s performance as a sporadically unsound survivor, alternating between touching and humorous) and a powerful message about racism and intolerance, as Matthew fights back against Marston’s sadistic henchmen. Despite a few minor lulls for strengthening Quigley’s attitude toward both Cora and the Aborigine victims, the film is full of shootouts, stunts, drama, laughs, thrills, tragedy, and pathos. It’s a vastly overlooked, under-appreciated masterpiece of Western excitement, consistently invigorated by the momentous music, the strong performances, and the unyielding heroism.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10