Scrolling through old movies to watch, we passed this one and I commented how much I enjoyed it when I was younger. Julie made the fateful statement, “I don’t think I’ve seen that,” which of course required us to hit play. It was a surprise to me that I found a lot more to appreciate in this movie that I did not remember from before, either due to age, maturity, writing experience or all of thee above. It was also fun to see Alan Rickman play essentially the same bad guy in two very different eras, and do it so very well. We had also watched Robinhood: Prince of Thieves in the same weekend.
Quigley Down Under is a western set in Australia, released in 1990, and starring Tom Selleck, Alan Rickman, and Laura San Giacomo. The story follows Quigley, an American cowboy and sharpshooter who answers a newspaper ad looking for someone who is an expert with a rifle. When he arrives he immediately finds himself at odds with employees of the ranch he is meant to work at, and later he is told the true reason for the advertisement. The rancher (Rickman) wants someone to help eliminate the Aboriginal people who live close to his land. Our hero, being a gentleman and man of honor declines, which sets about the events that lead to a final shootout with the rancher and his goons.
Under the main plot of a white vs. black hat western mainstay is a surprisingly deep story between Quigley and Giacomo’s Cora, called “Crazy” Cora early in the film. We learn that Cora accidentally killed her child while trying to keep the baby quiet during an attack by native Americans on her ranch back in the states. She mistakes Quigley for her husband, who sent her off to Australia because of what she did. Cora is clearly suffering and it opens up opportunities in the story for some interesting perspective on the Aboriginal people who are a major part of the movie. The care and understanding that Quigley shows Cora is heartwarming, and tragic at the same time. While she sometimes believes he’s the husband who abandoned her, he shows great compassion which is all she ever wanted from the man who shipped her off. It gives Quigley that image of honor and integrity, even as he refuses to sleep with her when she presents that opportunity, because she doesn’t know who he really is.
This is a movie with a lot of different stories going on. A criticism of Britain’s use of Australia and treatment of her Aboriginal people, but also their own who were sent there as prisoners. A good vs. evil story with a hero bringing his own insight from how America was handling her own awful treatment of native Americans. There’s a human story of love, loss, and trauma with Cora. With so much going on in the story and its subplots, it all still flows well and keeps entertaining throughout. This is a better movie that it is given credit for, and handles social issues in a much better way than a lot of movies that try today. There is no doubt that we’re being shown just how badly we’ve treated many lands and their people without making it a lecture and finger-shaking at the audience.
I still enjoyed this movie as much as I did when I was younger, when it was just about a cowboy with a cool rifle. My adult eyes and writer brain has given me greater insight into the story that only made it better. If you haven’t seen it in awhile, check it out. If never, definitely put this on your list. You won’t regret it.