CULT CORNER #46: Extreme Prejudice (1987)

Nick Nolte is the law in Walter Hill’s classy new-age Western. 

Who made it?: Walter Hill (Director), Deric Washburn, Harry Kleiner (Writers), Buzz Feitshans (Producer), Carolco Entertainment/TriStar Pictures

Who’s in it?: Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, William Forsythe, Clancy Brown, Maria Conchita Alonso.

Tagline: “An army of forgotten heroes, all officially dead. They live for combat. Now they’ve met the wrong man.”

IMDb rating: 6.3/10.

On top of directing such manly classics as 48 Hrs.The Driver and The Warriors, Walter Hill also helmed the little-known 1987 gem Extreme Prejudice. An insanely cool modern-day Western, the film contains an epic cast, including the likes of Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, William Forsythe and Clancy Brown, all of whom are coated in record amounts of sweat. Add to this an interesting story and a bullet-ridden climax which pays homage to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, and you have a testosterone-fuelled actioner that deserves far more recognition than it receives. Beware, though, that the film is so manly that it has been known to make vaginas close up and turn female voices quite husky. Men, meanwhile, suffer a sudden desire to chomp on cigars, shoot some liquor, arm wrestle dinosaurs and lift weights after watching Extreme Prejudice.

Texas Ranger Jack Benteen (Nolte) finds himself in a difficult situation when he learns that former childhood best friend Cash Bailey (Boothe) is now a major drug trafficker. Although reluctant to draw arms on Cash due to their history, Jack becomes determined to bring down his old friend after the local sheriff is killed by Cash’s men. Meanwhile, a group of off-the-grid soldiers led by Major Paul Hackett (Ironside) are on a CIA-sanctioned operation to take down Cash’s drug operations, looking to strip the drug baron of his funds and retrieve information about all of his business associates. Complicating matters further, Jack’s girlfriend Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso) becomes weary of life with the Texas Ranger, and looks to hook up with her former flame, Cash. Learning of Hackett’s operation, Jack decides to join the soldiers as they head to Mexico to assassinate Cash and halt his operations.

Extreme Prejudice is laden with manly goodness, from Cash crushing a scorpion with his bare hands to gratuitous female nudity and bloody violence aplenty, not to mention a healthy smattering of quotable one-liners. Written by Deric Washburn and Harry Kleiner (from a story by John Milius and Fred Rexer), the script is marvellous, overflowing with tough macho guy speak which keeps the film engaging from start to end. In the first five minutes, a character tells a random woman “As long as I got a face, you got a place to sit.” For crying out loud, the overzealously manly Jack and Cash at one stage prepare for a duel, and Cash tells Sarita “Show us some tits if you want to be useful, give us some motivation.” The title is even derived from the expression “terminate with extreme prejudice.” Yeah, the film is named after a fucking kill order. To the credit of the writers, Extreme Prejudice is not just a lazy, straight-ahead action fiesta; there’s actually some thought towards plotting and character development, while the action scenes are scattered here and there. Plus, there are a handful of nice plot twists, and the film displays very little sentimentality towards its characters.

Hill has excelled as an action director for his entire career, and Extreme Prejudice greatly benefits from Hill’s masterful touch. Shot with gloriously old-fashioned filmmaking sensibilities, the action scenes are fluid, smooth and always riveting and easy to follow. Extreme Prejudice is drenched in grit, as well. We can almost feel the heat of the Texas sun, and there’s not an ounce of artificial-looking CGI in sight. Moreover, blood squibs explode all over the place; action fans will delight over the gratuitous scenes of folks being gunned down. It’s awesome. The centrepiece of the film is its climax, a magnificent shootout that’s exceedingly violent and loud. Indeed, the technical specs and production values are mightily impressive. Also notable is Jerry Goldsmith’s insanely memorable score. The late Goldsmith was a luminary of the action genre, having also scored the likes of First BloodTotal RecallAir Force One and Deep Rising, hence his presence is mightily appreciated and his efforts bestow Extreme Prejudice with a wonderful coat of polish.

The fact that Jack and Cash are childhood friends gives the picture a unique angle, making it more compelling than just another routine “cops vs. drug dealers” action film. The characters aren’t exactly deep, but the script allots them a decent amount of development, raising the stakes once the climax draws near. It helps that the performances are terrific. Nolte lost some weight and worked with a real-life Texas Ranger to get into character…and my word, it paid off. Nolte is a total badass here, and more movies featuring Jack Benteen would have been welcome. Equally good is Boothe, who chews the scenery playing the villain here. Meanwhile, Ironside submitted a typical Ironside performance; he never steps out of his comfort zone, but he’s a good fit for his role and he seems committed to the material. Rip Torn also makes a huge impression. He’s quick-witted and entertaining, and an entire movie could be centred around Nolte and Torn interacting with one another.

Extreme Prejudice is not a film for everyone. It’s quite exclusively a boy’s movie, intended to be consumed by males who enjoy this type of actioner. Girls need not apply, unless they enjoy films like The Wild Bunch or The Expendables. Perhaps the storytelling could be tauter, but there’s otherwise not much to complain about here. The action is amazing, the dialogue is incredibly entertaining and the actors are great. What a shame it’s so criminally underrated.

Best Scene

Hill always knew how to stage a gunfight.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Nick Nolte lost more than 50 pounds to really get into his character.
  • The opening of the film which includes the military backgrounds of each member of Michael Ironside’s mercenaries, was inspired by the similar opening to the hit TV show, The A-Team.
  • The title comes from a line of dialog written in the script. The line “terminate with extreme prejudice” first appears on film in Apocalypse Now (although it originates in the Bernard Conners novel “Don’t Embarrass the Bureau”). Both films were written by John Milius.

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1 Comment

  1. castingcouch says:

    I’ve never seen or heard about this particular Walter Hill movie. And now I must go find it!

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