Quigley Down Under (1990) has the draw (rifle?) of what might be a good western for its time, but it falls short of being an exceptional film by erroneously wasting the viewer’s time with a lack of depth in the setting and frivolous villainy.
Quigley Down Under was written by John Hill and was released in 1990. It stars Tom Selleck as the titular Quigley, Laura San Giacomo as Crazy Cora, and Alan Rickman as Elliot Marston. The film centers on Quigley, who travels to Australia after being hired by Marston to shoot Aborigines–a fact that Quigley did not know upon accepting Marston’s invitation. This leads to a conflict between the two characters and a series of battles ensue between Quigley, Marston and his cohorts.
Quigley himself is a one-dimensional character, but Tom Selleck (the would-be Indiana Jones) brings the character to life due to his natural charisma, wit, and charm. Also, a welcome change to the stereotypical western genre—one that was more spaghetti than gritty for a such a long time—is that of Quigley’s gun: a rifle that allows him to hit targets at great distances (a fantastical weapon, perhaps even silly, but a welcome change nonetheless). It provides explosive action any time Quigley pulls the trigger, which often offsets some of the boredom brought on by the film’s attempt at character development and plotting.
Laura San Giacomo plays Crazy Cora, who follows Quigley around during his adventure in the Australian Outback—seemingly against her will for the most part. She wonderfully acts the part, and sells the Gremlins-esque backstory scene with command, as she bounces between talking about her road-worn dress and how she smothered her own child to save herself from pillaging Indians. This inciting incident literally drives her (by her husband) to exile in Australia. Of course, late in the film, she has to relive this torturous experience while hiding from carnivorous wolves in a cave.
Alan Rickman is Elliot Marston, who is seemingly evil for the sake of evil, and Quigley punches him in the face for that—twice. Rickman is so exaggerated in the role of Marston that one can almost imagine him threatening to cut out Quigley’s heart, “with a spoon,” circa Robin Hood (1991). Yet, Rickman fails to be even half as charming as his diabolical doppelganger from Sherwood Forest , which is a bummer because The Sheriff of Nottingham is a silly/fun character and Rickman is an extraordinary actor. Regardless, Quigley shoots Marston with a pistol in a final, engaging standoff where it is revealed that Quigley is not only good with a rifle but he is also a quick draw with his pistol. Ultimately, this hammers home Quigley’s point (or pistols home his point?): don’t mess with the best … or with Quigley … or whatever. Wait, did he have a point? At the very end of the film, Quigley is standing in a corral that is littered with bodies, he is a million miles from his house in Montana, and he just spent a week romancing an insane woman who smothered her kid, and all I could think was: “Why are you still there? Go home already! Just go home.”
Visually, the movie looks good in ordinary shots and camera angles, but some of the more glaring issues can be attributed to its use (or lack thereof) of setting: the location is the sprawling outback of Australia–and it was filmed on location there—but this fact is not exploited very well. One would think that if it was filmed at a specific location, then perhaps utilizing it would be paramount. In other words, if you are filming a movie about a cabin in the woods–please include a cabin in the woods (not unless it’s one of those damn arthouse films–then to hell with you!).
The sweeping shots of Australia could have been easily replaced with sweeping shots of Utah or Arizona (circa Outlaw Josey Wales) or any other ambiguous western scenario from any film (take yer pick). With such a concoction, there is bound to be a bunch of cool stuff you can do with the characters, villains, and extras. Alas, the depth of setting is overlooked by the film creators, who pursue a story about a man with a modified rifle–and the result is a mundane traipse through the backyard of someone’s ranch out west.
Moreover, I could not understand the use of music in this film. It navigates its way through sci-fi, John Carpenter-level symphonic explorations, to the typical cowboy guitar strumming that a viewer might expect from this genre. The musical styles don’t mesh well and I was left confused as to how I should feel emotionally during many scenes. Take for instance: space music harvested from an obscure, futuristic alien movie from the 80s is a little strange when showing enormous panoramic shots of what is supposed to be a lawless continent set in the 1860s.
Nevertheless, Quigley benefits from a strong cast (even Alan Rickman is a little entertaining in a less-than-riveting role) and from some fine visuals as well. Oh, and even though I’ve never fired a gun in my life–I want to own Quigley’s rifle. So, that at least gives the film some additional points in my book.