Monday, 18 July 2011

Extreme Prejudice (1987)

Country: USA

Extreme Prejudice is a criminally underrated and underappreciated film that has improved considerably with time. It was pretty much lost in the macho action movie shuffle in the late 1980’s, seemingly unable to compete with the empty headed adventures of Schwarzenegger, Segal, Stallone et al. One immediately notices its difference by the decision to cast Nick Nolte as the stiff and stoic Texas Ranger Jack Benteen. Nolte is a hard man here, dangerous and ruthlessly violent, he prefers direct physical confrontation over discussion. When one considers that his most recent roles included Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), Grace Quigley (1985) and Teachers (1984) one can see that Nolte was very much being cast against type. To say he does an excellent job is something of an understatement. If Extreme Prejudice possesses one thing that separates it from the other action films being made at the time, it is in the superbly convincing performances. The cast also includes Powers Boothe, Rip Torn, Michael Ironside, Maria Conchito Alonso, and Clancy Brown. A beautiful ensemble of solid character actors who are clearly deeply committed to the material. If the cast isn’t enough to whet your appetite the film was directed by Walter Hill, with a screenplay co-written by John Milius. This is macho action movie heaven, and I for one enjoyed every minute.

Like Extreme Prejudice Walter Hill is also a vastly underappreciated writer and director. Hill is an incredibly consistent and efficient maker of genre films. Although he has explored a number of genres, it could be argued that all of his films are essentially westerns. His principal influences such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone and most notably Sam Peckinpah would seem to reinforce this. He is perhaps best know to fans of cult cinema for The Warriors (1979), but my personal favourites of his are The Streetfighter (1975) with Charles Bronson and James Coburn, Southern Comfort (1981) and the film under discussion here. One of the pleasures of Extreme Prejudice is the way it combines a complex twin narrative, with a clear, concise and no nonsense method of filmmaking. The first narrative deals with a mysterious military outfit led by Major Paul Hackett (Michael Ironside) and their efforts to rob a bank in a border town in Texas. The second deals with the relationship between the law enforcing Texas ranger and his former best friend Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe) who has turned to the dark side and built himself a drug empire which he defends with a small army. To complicate their already tense relationship the two adversaries are still fighting over the heart of Sanita (Maria Conchito Alonso). The symbol of their division is the border that separates the two countries, and Benteen knows that in order to resolve the criminality that is encroaching into his territory he will have to make a trip into the lions den.

The border tensions signify this is a modern day western, and this is reinforced with some magnificent shoot outs, and a wonderfully laconic turn by Rip Torn as the Sherriff who has seen it all and offers advice to the slowly fragmenting psyche of Benteen. His early demise robs the film of an emotional core which the film struggles to replace. The twin narratives intersect in delightful little ways until the inevitable moment of revelation that Hackett and his experts are a CIA funded operation brought in to eliminate Bailey who has reneged on a deal. But these are relationships fraught with deception and subterfuge and with so much testosterone floating around the suspense builds. The film concludes with a superb showdown on the Mexican side of the border which evokes the heroics of William Holden's band of loveable cutthroats in The Wild Bunch (1969). Here we get to see the decadence and greed of Bailey, who in a departure from conventions bedecks himself in white rather than black. Powers Boothe puts in a fine performance as the sleazy and greedy drug dealer, whose posture and attitude is in direct opposition to Nolte’s taut coiled spring. They are so different that one marvels that they could ever be best friends, but the opposing choices they have made has created a border between the two that can never be breached.

The screenplay and Hill’s direction has a gleeful disregard for the mounting clichés. But if you are going too explore generic material such as this, then the least you can do is try and make the action sequences as good as possible. In this Extreme Prejudice effortlessly excels. But there is very little in this film for women. The dialogue is of the tough guy variety, and the hero is stoic to a point that just falls shy of ridiculous. The only female character is passed between the leads like a sack of potatoes, and the frustration she feels is only briefly indicated. Her presence is merely decorative, and she spends much of the final moments sobbing at the old fashioned duel the men are having in her name. Perhaps another criticism might be the sheer busyness of the film. For a genre flick this is a very cluttered affair. A gallery of colourful characters are introduced, but the film doesn’t really have much time to develop them. But these are trifling grumbles, Extreme Prejudice is a great little film, but it’s definitely one for the boys.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. Shaun: I am certainly on board for this one. Few ever or will ever direct an action film like Walter Hill - as good as Peckinpah in this regard.

    Folks forget what a potent force Nick Nolte was onscreen at this point in his career. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I adore Extreme Prejudice, certainly one of my faves of Walter Hill's efforts. While the characters may not be developed that much the incredible cast make them very memorable. Powers Boothe is fantastic here, he and Nolte make a great pairing. Great review.

  3. @ Mykal - Many thanks for the comment. Have you ever seen Nolte in WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN aka DOG SOLDIERS? A great performance that has vanished into the mists of time. Another great Hill film I didn't mention was STREETS OF FIRE.

    @ Hero - Yes a wonderfully cast film; Rip Torn, Clancy Brown and Michael Ironside offering great support as well. Powers Boothe is also underrated, he was great in SOUTHERN COMFORT and THE EMERALD FOREST.

  4. Shaun: I have seen Who'll Stop the Rain - another rawboned, powerhouse performance from Nolte in his prime offset perfectly by the gone to corruption of Michael Moriarty. Streets of Fire is good, too. I have a soft spot in my heart for Last Man Standing as well, though many didn't like it.

  5. Yes Moriarty is also very good value for money, or he was around that time anyway. LAST MAN STANDING is wonderfully entertaining, but then every derivative of Kurosawa's YOJIMBO has been. Another one of Hill's which is very obscure now is THE DRIVER, it failed to find an audience at the time. Mostly because Ryan O Neal was playing against type, but its a fine performance. I might have to have a Hill retrospective in light of this positive response to his films.

  6. " I might have to have a Hill retrospective in light of this positive response to his films.

    Hell yes! I am a huge Hill fan and I would be tuning in. Don't forget Wild Bill!

  7. The Driver is close to being a masterpiece of film-making minimalism.

  8. Or '48 HOURS Mykal - which I watched again this weekend.

    I couldn't agree more on THE DRIVER.

  9. Greg Stuart Smith25 August 2011 at 06:05


    I've been looking forward to reading this review since the day it popped into my inbox a few weeks ago. In fact, I've been putting off reading it since then, because I didn't want to be rushed and wanted to give it its due credit. I can't tell you, how excited I was to see that you reviewed this classic piece of action cinema, because it's one of my favorites; that, and I'm a huge Walter Hill fan.

    I'm glad to see SOUTHERN COMFORT discussed here also, as it is a rare gem indeed -- there are absolutely no women characters this one either, which works well, because it is primarily a movie about men relating to men under duress, not unlike THE THING in that respect. A weird blend of DELIVERANCE meets APOCALYPSE NOW.

    I'm also glad to see '48 HOURS included in this
    discussion. Nolte is a real hard drinking, hardass son of a bitch in this one, too. I think he punches Eddie Murphy out in this one like three times! I also love how he drives like a full blown maniac through the streets of San Francisco in his pink Cadillac! Don't even get me started here!

    I recently saw JOHNNY HANDSOME. A nice, though flawed effort, I thought. A strange, little film that doesn't quite fit in with the rest of his work. As in most of his films, the bad guys here are truly gruesome, loathsome animals, played with total abandonment by Ellen Barkin and Lance Henriksen. I wouldn't call this one an action film though.

    RED HEAT I think is interesting, too. It's a beautiful looking film (in its own way), resplendent with neon tinged frames, rain soaked streets, and smoky corridors. It's also the only film I've seen where the two main advisories (mortal enemies they) drive buses at each other in an insane game of chicken! Belushi is great here, too. One of Arnold's better, unsung successes for my two cents.

    Okay, I can't add much of anything to your review of EXTREME PREJUDICE (as it is spot on across the board), other than to mention Jerry Goldsmith's score. It's a great one; I own it in fact. And for my two cents, it fits the film perfectly. A nice blend of interesting synthed out percussion tracks mixed with western tinged undertones.

    Also, William Forsythe is great in this one, a real scene stealer, I think. His cigar chomping redneck commando is so gruff around the edges, it's hysterical; though you get that there is a lot more there going on under the surface, that he is in fact a highly intelligent trained killer who would rather be underestimated any day of the week than seen for what he is.

    Again, really great review. Thanks, pal.

  10. How do I follow such a great comment? Firstly I can say many thanks Greg for your kind words about the review. I was slightly taken aback by the general positivity towards Walter Hill's films, but I've always enjoyed his work.

    I have to say I think SOUTHERN COMFORT just edges it for me over DELIVERANCE. I like both films a lot, but SOUTHERN COMFORT has a peculiar atmosphere all of its own.

    I haven't seen JOHNNY HANDSOME for a number of years, not recently enough to comment on it with any degree of insight. So I think I'll rent that and take another look. I remember thinking it was one of Rourke's better films. He was certainly at the peak of his abilities around that time. RED HEAT is also a lot of fun, but I don't think it's worth owning. The only Schwarzenegger films I'd include in my film library are both of the CONAN pictures, THE TERMINATOR, PREDATOR, and TOTAL RECALL. The rest I can take or leave.

    I should have mentioned Goldsmith's score so thanks for highlighting it here in the comments section. My two favourite performances in EXTREME PREJUDICE come from Clancy Brown and Rip Torn. In researching my review I read a lot of negative appraisals of the film. This surprised me because it's very good.

    Oh and like the cheapest kind of cabaret singer, I do take requests Greg. So if there is anything specific you'd like to see reviewed and I can easily get my hands on a copy I'd be more than happy to do that.

    All the best!

  11. Greg Stuart Smith25 August 2011 at 22:55

    Couldn't agree more about Clany Brown. As always, he's great here. I've been a huge fan of his since his tern as The Kurgan in HIGHLANDER. This film came out around the same time, which is notable, because he's performances (in both films) couldn't be more different. He's laconic and cool in this one, but in that dangerous, I can handle myself kind of way. This is true of Nolte's performance, too.

    An interesting note about that: in order to ensure authenticity, the film's producers hired legendary Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson as an adviser on the film, or rather, they hired Jackson to let Nolte spend time with him as research. Nolte is said to have modeled a lot of his character off of Jackson, even adopting the same firearm Jackson used as a Ranger: a .45 Colt Commander. He even had the armorer use the same grips as Jackson's: rattlesnake! No how badass is that! Even the way Nolte walks in his boots is authentic. Believe me, I'm from Texas, and I should know.

    And on that note, and since you're taking requests, have you seen another little film about a Texas Ranger called LONE WOLF MCQUADE? It's a Chuck Norris film and a fun one to be sure, though no masterpiece. A ranger that can do a round house kick! A midget bad guy! David Carradine! It's almost unbelievable how crazy this one gets, but it's very watchable to the end. The director chose to hire maestro Frencesco Demasi (composer of many a Spaghetti Western) to score the picture, and his work is by far the highlight of the film. I own this score, too, by the way. Anyway, this film is at least worth a watch, though whether or not you review, it is entirely up to you.

    And I still got to get to those Italian crime films you mentioned! Soon, amigo!

  12. Shaun: I enthusiastically second the request for Lone Wolf McQuade, who by coincidence I watched (again) a night ago. This is indeed one of Norris's special gems, who was/is the real deal. I have been on a 70s 80s action kick lately. May I also give my highest recommendation to two more Norris films: The Hitman and Code of Silence (which I am going to watch again tonight). Finally, since we are taking requests, may I suggest The Outfit (1973) with Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker - directed by the undervalued John Flynn.

  13. I watched HIGHLANDER a few months ago Greg, and I'm sorry to say I thought it was dreadful. It was a major cult film of my youth. I hadn't seen it for fifteen years and to say I was disappointed is an understatement.I think Clancy Brown is far and away the best thing about it. It confirmed for me that Russell Mulcahy's best film is RAZORBACK.

    Thanks for that contextual behind the scenes information on EXTREME PREJUDICE. I hope people read on beyond the review and get the benefit of your knowledge.

    LONE WOLF MCQUADE has been added to my Lovefilm rental list, and when it arrives (which could be next week or in 6 weeks time depending on the lottery of my list) I will endeavour to write a review. I have seen it many years ago, but a refresher course in all things Norris is required. Feel free to drop by any time with suggestions or requests!

    All the best!

  14. Greg Stuart Smith26 August 2011 at 09:47

    HIGHLANDER doesn't stack up anymore that's for sure; I almost added as much to my comment. I especially loved it when I was a teenager, but sadly, now that I'm grown, it comes off as rather silly. It was one of those films, though, I felt special to have discovered. Queen's score is still great, I think. So I agree, beside Clany Brown's fine perfomance (Hooker: "Hi, I'm Candy." The Kergan: "But of course you are.") the score is easily the best part of the film.

    A strange one for Connery, too. Other than Boorman's ZARDOZ (I woudn't review this), his strangest choice by far. Maybe it was just the title that got him - no self-respecting Scot could ever say no to a film entitled HIGHLANDER!

    This makes me happy. I got a list of a couple of films that I'm dying to hear your thoughts on. I'll throw them your way at a later date, when it's not so late, as it is here anyway. The Sand Man calls... as he always does when I forget to fully shut my closet.

    Cheers, mate.

  15. @ Mykal - thanks for stopping by! I had never heard of THE OUTFIT before you mentioned it. It's not available to rent at my rental place, I wonder if you know of anywhere online it could be watched?

    @ Grey - I much prefer Queen's score to FLASH GORDON, I've got the LP somewhere. I think in the 1970's Connery made a number of diverse an interesting films. I suppose ZARDOZ is the most outlandish, but it was a very high profile film. If you haven't seen it already I recommend you watch THE OFFENCE. I watched/reviewed it a few months back and it has already established itself as one of my favourite Connery films...I look forward to your suggestions! Thanks for the comment.

  16. Shaun: The Outfit is a good one - the first adaptation of the Richard Stark novel of the same name - later movie adaptations were Point Blank with Lee Marvin and, still later, Payback, with Mel Gibson.

    Do you have a region 1 player? If so, shoot me your mailing address over there across the pond. I'll send you a copy. email:

  17. Hi there Mykal, it certainly sounds an intriguing title. Thank you for your kind and generous offer, I do indeed have a multi-region player and I will drop you an email...many thanks!

  18. Shaun, while making eggs the other day, it hit me: Queen just did additional music for HIGHLANDER. The film itself was sored by the late, great Michael Kamen, the composer of many an iconic score: LETHAL WEAPON, THE DEAD ZONE, just to name a few...

    He also scored HBO's original BAND OF BROTHERS series. Sadly, he passed away before he could do the score to the series' follow up: THE PACIFIC. I feel one reason THE PACIFIC fell flat for most, is on account of this fact, that Kamen wasn't around to strike just the right tone. Anyway, thought I'd correct my mistake.

    And yes, FLASH GORDAN is indeed an amazing score. I still listen to it. The film itself was/is a fav of mine, especially when I was just a wee lad. I'd run around my folks' house in Dallas, Texas, plastic raygun in hand, singing: "Greg! Ah-Ah! Savior of the Universe!"


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