MOVIE REVIEW | ***TOM WEEK*** Quigley Downunder (1990)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s the kind of movie that I only know it was attempting to be drama because the dialogue and characters tell me that.  It says a lot, but doesn’t actually do a great deal.”

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“This ain’t Dodge City. And you ain’t Bill Hickok.”

American TV and movies have never got Australia right.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single American actor do a half decent Australian accent, and the clichés their views of us are built on are beyond dated.  Even The Simpsons, possibly the greatest TV comedy of all time, couldn’t help resorting to the cheapest, easiest, most played out jokes when they set an episode here.  And it was that terrible track record that had me kind of intrigued with the idea of Quigley Downunder.   A dodgy 90s movie, starring Tom Selleck as a cowboy who travels to colonial Australia just seemed like too much of an inevitable train wreck to miss.

Answering an ad looking for the world’s greatest sharpshooter, all American cowboy Matthew Quigley (Selleck) hops a ship, and three months later he’s in Fremantle on Australia’s west coast.  Putting his nice guy credentials on show, Quigley gets into a brawl, saving Crazy Cora (Laure San Giacomo) from some local lowlifes.  Local lowlifes who it turns out also work for Quigley’s new boss.  So now Quigley is aboard their carriage, with Crazy Cora, for several days journeying across the outback to finally meet his new employer.

The owner of a cattle station bigger than some European countries, Elliot Marston (Alan Rickman) claims he needs Quigley’s marksmanship to help take care of a dingo problem.  But it’s soon clear that he really wants Quigley to gun down the native aboriginal people living on and around his land.  When Quigley responds to this realisation with a punch to Marston’s face, he is quickly overpowered and left for dead, along with Cora, in the middle of the outback.

Based on its fish out of water premise and broad, light sounding title, I assumed Quigley Downunder was gonna be a comedy.  Maybe a Crocodile Dundee in reverse.  Even the opening scene, when the charming Matthew Quigley dispatches a rude Irishman with a swift kick to the balls, indicated that I was in comedy territory.  But surprisingly, Quigley is a pretty serious, straight up drama.  Well, more accurately, it’s trying to be a serious, straight up drama.

The racial issue is so much more central than I expected it to be.  It’s totally ham fisted and on the nose too.  The tragic back story of Crazy Cora, and how she came to be in Australia and earn the crazy moniker, is surprisingly dark.  It’s also totally ham fisted and on the nose.  It’s the kind of movie that I only know it was attempting to be drama because the dialogue and characters tell me that.  It says a lot, but doesn’t actually do or show a great deal.
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Here’s one massive surprise I did get from Quigley Downunder, it proved that there is actually such a thing as a bad Ben Mendelsohn performance.  In a minor role as one of Marston’s henchmen, Mendelsohn takes a thin, personality free character, and makes it even worse by throwing on a dodgy Irish accent.  Watching that awkward kid, knowing he has gone on to be one of the best character actors working in Hollywood today, is one of the only things that made Quigley Downunder kind of interesting.

Quigley Downunder
Directed By – Simon Wincer
Written By – John Hill

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about Quigley Downunder?
Roger Ebert
The New York Times
Paul Ashwell

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