Extreme Prejudice, 1987.
Directed by Walter Hill.
Starring Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Maria Conchita Alonso, Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, William Forsythe, Clancy Brown, Marco Rodriguez.
A Texas Ranger ranger and a drug kingpin who used to be friends find themselves going up against one another.
In Extreme Prejudice, Texas Ranger John Benteen (Nick Nolte) has to go up against his former best friend Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), a former police informant who has grown his empire to become a feared drug kingpin. However, Benteen is not the only person after Bailey as there is a group of presumed dead soldiers, led by the ruthless Major Paul Hackett (Michael Ironside), looking to take him down, eventually forcing Benteen to team up with them to face off against his former friend.
Directed by Walter Hill (Red Heat), written by John Milius (Conan the Barbarian) and featuring a cast that includes the aforementioned Nolte, Boothe and Ironside along with Clancy Brown, William Forsythe, Rip Torn and a host of “Oh, it’s that guy from…” faces, Extreme Prejudice is very much a man’s film, so much so that you can feel your testosterone levels increasing as you watch it. Maria Conchita Alonso plays Sarita, Bailey’s former lover and Benteen’s current squeeze, and is the only major female presence in the movie, but it is enough as Walter Hill delivers a familiar story of a good guy versus a bad guy, fine tuning his action movie instincts and spaying everything with bullets, hoping that the right people are still standing at the end.
Looking at this movie 35 years after its initial release, what hammers home the most is how on top of their game everybody is. Nick Nolte is at the height of his career, looking mean, moody and steely-eyed as John Benteen, a man who doesn’t seem to really enjoy much in life apart from going home to his woman after a hard day taking down the bad guys with his friend Sheriff Pearson (Rip Torn), and Nolte does not crack a smile or a grin during the whole movie, as if his face had been totally chiselled out of stone. Powers Boothe, however, is the opposite as Bailey laughs and jokes with his old buddy, slapping his back and making light of a potentially dangerous situation as the two men metaphorically measure their tackle against each other when it comes to who Sarita is going to ride off into the sunset with. To be fair, she doesn’t look particularly enamoured with either of them but Maria Conchita Alonso gives such a strong performance as Sarita that you get the feeling she can handle herself whatever the outcome.
Which leaves the gang of officially dead soldiers – or the Zombie Unit, as they are collectively known – to keep things moving when Powers Boothe isn’t onscreen being charming, and here is where the real appeal of Extreme Prejudice lies as the Zombie Unit are led by Major Paul Hackett, as portrayed by Michael Ironside in one of his first Hollywood movies and the man is incredible, oozing that intense charisma that made his turns in Total Recall and Starship Troopers so memorable. Backing him up are Clancy Brown, William Forsythe, Matt Mulhern, Larry B. Scott and Dan Tullis Jr., all of whom give solid performances but Brown and Forsythe stand out a mile, perhaps being more noticeable now because of the careers they would go on to have, and when they are onscreen with Ironside the stench of masculinity is almost palpable. With scenes that paved the way for the likes of Heat and The Rock as part of their involvement in the plot, the Zombie Unit are the most interesting and enjoyable element of the movie and John Milius and Walter Hill’s handling of them makes you wish they got their own prequel movie.
Released as part of StudioCanal’s new Cult Classics line of restorations, this Blu-ray looks as sweet as a gritty neo-western from 1987 possibly can, with Powers Boothe’s white suit popping out of the screen against the dusty brown backgrounds, and once the bullets start flying there is plenty of red to contrast with the desert setting, and the disc movie comes backed with an audio commentary with film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke, revealing new interviews with Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown and director of photography Matthew F. Leonetti, trailers and archive materials from the time so you get a full picture of how the movie was put together.
Overall, Extreme Prejudice is a hugely enjoyable action romp through the Texas/Mexico deserts with a bunch of misfit characters the sort of which populate most of Walter Hill’s movies. The violence is tough and brutal, with plenty of blood squibs going off, and although the movie does lose a bit of its momentum going into the third act it does pick itself up again for the final showdown. Even though the appeal of such toxic masculinity may be limited with some audiences, Extreme Prejudice delivers the adrenaline and thrills that it promises, and 35 years on, in a post-Tarantino world, it still holds up.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★