By Colin Moore
Attention fans of the wagon train – the Old West isn’t so different in the Southern Hemisphere. Ranchers are still either benign or cold-blooded, women used and abused, indigenous populations trampled into oblivion, and guns the last word.
”Quigley Down Under” stars Tom Selleck (TV’s ”Magnum P.I.”) as the title character, dimpled 19th-century American sharpshooter Matthew Quigley. He arrives in Western Australia in response to a newspaper ad placed by Elliot Marston (Alan Rickman), a cold-blooded cattle baron in need of an ace marksman. But when Marston reveals the true nature of the position, to forcefully subdue the Aborigines living off his land, he finds himself an unwilling projectile through his own window, care of Quigley. The newcomer is soon outnumbered though. He takes his lumps from the other ranch-hands and, on orders from Marston, is left in the desert to die. Not surprisingly he survives, making Quigley one of a number of the genre (”Unforgiven”, ”Last Man Standing”) where the hero resurrects to fight another day.
From here the story could as aptly be called “Now What?” Quigley is lost, a stranger in a strange but sweeping vista. With a sweet but psychologically scarred companion the locals have dubbed Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo), he wanders about the outback, exchanging bullets with Marston’s men while gaining the respect of the Aborigines. This is an alliance he will depend on later. The film mixes light comedy and the fist brawls and gunnery expected of most Westerns, in a similar vein to Richard Donner’s ”Maverick”, but loosely paced and far less engaging. And possibly even insulting, depending on your view of Quigley, the American, as the only semblance of decency across the entire Australian continent. But wait, there are also the Aborigines themselves. In the absence of a wagon train of settlers (Bend of the River) or a loved one in peril (”The Searchers”) their plight becomes the hero’s cause. He is compelled to confront Marston again after witnessing their savage treatment, as in one scene where a group of Aborigines are forced over a 90 degree precipice.
And the man himself? Selleck is likable as the white-hatted gunman but that may be part of the problem. His Quigley has a moral compass, a charming smile and little else – no fears or goals, no scruples, no backstory to account for this extraordinary shootist traveling 3 months for a job. There are scenes that hint at a more complex man however. The look on Quigley’s face when Marston expresses his admiration for white America’s “pacification” of the Native American is telling but unfulfilled. If there’s dimension inside this man, he’s saving it for a sequel. And so we’re left with the rugged Australian landscape and Selleck’s co-stars to maintain our interest.
Alan Rickman became cinema’s weaselly Euro villain of choice after his role as Hans Gruber in ”Die Hard”. In ”Quigley” he more or less repeats the part but what little screen time he’s given is spent growling at his henchmen to “Get Quigley!” while he sits cozy at the ranch. Of course it’s always good fun to see a Rickman villain exasperate himself with a hero he can’t catch, but Marston is too passive and the final showdown lacks urgency because of it. The brightest light award then goes to Laura San Giacomo. As Cora she plays two contrasting personalities at once, kooky sidekick and soft-skinned love interest, in just the right proportions. She repeatedly calls Quigley “Roy,” believing that he’s her estranged American husband come to bring her home. Beneath her comedic delusions though is a personal tragedy that explains them, and a depth of character that even Quigley doesn’t have.
Blu-ray Details and Extras :
The 1080p transfer looks terrific, it’s bursting with colour, detail and so it clean somewhat deages the twenty-year old film.
Sadly, there’s no 5.1 soundtrack, only a 2.0 track. It does the trick, but lacks the punch of an immersive, thumping 5.1.
Extras-wise, there’s an EPK-style featurette, a couple of TV spots and the film’s theatrical trailer.