Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Tom Selleck, Laura San Giacomo, Alan Rickman | Director: Simon Wincer | Producers: Stanley O'Toole, Alexandra Rose, Megan Rose | Screenwriter: John Hill | Released By: MGM
This film’s title sounds like a sequel (as in “The Rescuers Down Under”), but nope, it’s the only one of its kind (the alternate Australian title is simply “Quigley”). An 1870s “Western” set in Australia, it’s generally considered a strong example of the genre.
Screenwriter John Hill (whom I know slightly), not saddled with a rewriter as he was in “Little Nikita,” turns in possibly the best work of his career. Australian-born director Simon Wincer, fresh from the “Lonesome Dove” miniseries, breathes life into the story. The score by Basil Poledouris (also a “Lonesome Dove” veteran, and the force behind the military-flavor theme music of films like “Red Dawn” and “Iron Eagle”) is a rouser. The cinematography and sound are excellent. Last but not least, the cast—including Tom Selleck (TV’s “Magnum, P.I.”) as the uncompromising white-hat; Laura San Giacomo (“Pretty Woman;” TV’s “Just Shoot Me”) as a lady recovering from deep personal trauma; classically-trained Alan Rickman (“Die Hard,” “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”) as the chief nasty; Rickman’s flunkies; and an assemblage of Aborigines—give stellar performances all around.
Australian rancher Elliott Marston (Rickman) advertises around the world for a sharpshooter who can rid his ranch of Dingo. Matthew Quigley (Selleck) answers his ad with a used paper target demonstrating his shot grouping. Using a Sharps rifle with Vernier sights and wildcat ammo, Quigley puts Marston’s skeptical ranchhands to silence with an amazing display of marksmanship. But he’s already gotten himself in trouble by defending “Crazy Cora” (San Giacomo); and he’ll soon be in deeper trouble for refusing Marston’s business proposition (the Dingo-shooting was a ruse; Marston actually wants his spread cleared of Aborigines). Quigley now moves from hunter to hunted. But while hiding from Marston’s men, he takes time to defend the Aborigines against atrocities.
The film is well-written and has a large range of subthemes; I’ll skip the details and leave some surprises.
Content Warnings: The violence is what would be expected from a PG-13 Western. There’s very little objectionable language. Although Crazy Cora is Quigley’s love interest, nothing sexual happens between them during the film (for reasons that can’t be detailed without giving away some major plot backstory). The killing of Aborigines by Marston’s men as though they were “subhumans” will anger many viewers. But Marston just fancies himself as “born on the wrong continent” and doing the same thing he’d have to do to Indians if he were in the American West. Many of the Aborigines—the “non-domesticated” ones, that is—wear only loincloths.
Extending the parallel to Native Americans, the film of course shows Aborigines in a sympathetic light. In some scenes that are deliberately capable of multiple interpretations, it’s implied that they may have magical powers.
Although this is a “Western” and has its share of coincidences and predictabilities, there’s a good deal of suspense and uncertainty. For Western fans and many non-fans as well, it’s worth a watch.
Year of Release—1990