Matthew Quigley, a rifleman of some distinction arrives in Australia a world away from his home in the old west. He is answering the call for work, work that will utilise his unique skills as a marksman. But things don't go according to plan and his potential employer will become his arch enemy in the nostalgic western Quigley Down Under.
Made in 1990 when the western was going through yet another downturn Quigley Down Under has an interesting premise, transporting the archetypal hero of the old west to another new frontier, that of the Australian outback. Quigley’s arrival sets the tone perfectly, coming into conflict with an uncouth local before he has even set foot on Australian soil! This cowboy is in the chivalrous knight mould, a man who will not hesitate to come to the rescue of a lady. Indeed this is how he goes about meeting Crazy Cora, a fellow American who, deluded by madness, believes Quigley to be a man she once loved, Roy. Together they find themselves crossing the expansive outback to get to the property of Elliott Marston. After a showy display of his talents Quigley discovers to his horror that it is not dingo’s that he has been hired to eliminate but Aborigines, it seems that residents of this new frontier are no different in their treatment of the native population as many in the old west.
So the scene is set for a conflict between two men and two attitudes. With two completely different types of actor each complementing the other. Tom Selleck is excellent in the role of Quigley, unashamedly enjoying the chance to play a classic cowboy character he looks the part and exudes natural charm and geniality. His opposite number, the wild west obsessed Marston is brought to the screen by Alan Rickman, in a slightly tongue in cheek characterisation that he would exploit fuller in his role as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves three years later. He is the classic bad guy, arrogant, over talkative and also looks the part in the traditional black clothes. Laura San Giacomo creates the most three dimensional character in the film, on first impression a mad woman, but she has her own tragic past which slowly come to the surface throughout the film as of course does the romance between Quigley and herself. She is probably the only concession to modern cinema; her complex female character would not have existed in the classic Hollywood western.
Director Simon Wincer, who went on to work on the award winning western mini series Lonesome Dove, creates some stunning visuals, making the most of the expansive Australian landscapes. He is also a dab hand at directing all the required elements, the shoot outs, the horse chases, and the fist fights. As well as these traditional set pieces Wincer convincingly brings the mystical Aboriginal element to the screen during Quigley and Cora’s encounters with the native people of Australia. The pace of the film never lags and the score assists the movies old fashioned feel, with composer Basil Poledouris capturing the atmosphere created by the likes of Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven). The costumes also help, with Quigley looking as if he has just stepped out of a technicolour movie of the fifties, classically dressed with saddle over shoulder, spurs, and chaps, not forgetting the white hat! A complete contrast to the mismatched garb worn by his enemies apart from his nemesis of course, the classic bad guy in black.
Quigley Down Under is a western that forgoes any modern ironic or revisionist interpretation and returns to a more innocent cinematic depiction of the age of the cowboy. A wild west with clear cut good guys and bad guys, in which a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, before the rebirth of the genre kick-started by the Spaghetti Westerns. It's a shame though, that more wasn't made of the Australian setting, an interesting idea that isn't fully developed in the movie. There could have been greater exploration of the parallels between the Aborigine and the Native American for example. But this is a minor flaw in an otherwise entertaining movie with Tom Selleck perfectly suited to the role of the sharp shooting moral hero who speaks more in action than words. Indeed if westerns were more in vogue he would be the perfect choice to take up the mantle of the likes of John Wayne and Gary Cooper.
Australian director who began working in TV in his homeland. Directed the horror flick Snapshot, before heading to Hollywood scoring a hit with the sci-fi adventure D.A.R.Y.L. Wincer had success on the small screen with the award-winning western Lonesome Dove and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and on the big screen directed the likes of Free Willy, Quigley Down Under and The Phantom.