Guest Review: Extreme Prejudice (1987)

Special thanks to my pal Kevin a.k.a Jack Deth for another in-depth review!

Make sure you check out his profile page under FC Contributor’s tab and find out more about his love for film.

‘Extreme Prejudice’ is a little known gem directed by Walter Hill and written by John Milius, an updated drugs-across-the border western. Starring Nick Nolte as Jack Benteen, a straight arrow, incorruptible second generation Texas Ranger who doesn’t say much. Lets his silent stare and scowl, when appropriate, handle most situations that his Colt .45 ACP  may be a bit too loud, messy and devastating for. In short, Benteen is Gary Cooper in High Noon, only more so with a larger hat.

Benteen’s jurisdiction cover just one heck of a lot of desert close to the Mexico border, with not a whole heck of a lot in between. Operating out of a small quiet town with a bank, barber shop, hardware stores, school and small businesses, where everyone who hasn’t left knows everyone else. With its usual raining,  miserable Saturday night fights in outlying Honky Tonks and dirt floor bars. One good old boy has the sad misfortune of running afoul of Benteen and his partner and mentor, Sheriff Hank Perason, played by the notably  gruff Rip Torn long before his playing Zed in ‘Men In Black’. The good old boy/drug smuggler pulls a gun on Benteen and Pearson and is killed in self defense, which slowly gets the ball rolling for the the rest of the film.

On the Mexican side of the border is Cash Bailey, Nolte’s childhood friend, a drug Kingpin and possible snitch or undercover DEA agent who’s in way over his head. He’s played flawlessly by Powers Boothe, fresh from his HBO mini-series Marlowe, resplendent in a white suit and Stetson, yet radiating an aura of corrupt sliminess. Cash runs a fair-sized Cocaine smuggling operation that rakes in huge amounts of money that requires laundering.

Cue the crooked Bank Manager and possible degenerate gambler who’s been bought and paid for by Cash Bailey, and whose bank is in the same small south Texas town that contains Benteen’s Rangers station and the table has been set for the entree. A small cadre of US Army special operators who are officially dead enter the mix. Led by Michael Ironside and top kicked by Clancy Brown. They make their entrance at a Municipal Airport with appropriate aplomb and a bit of raunch, before settling down to business. The deliberate destruction of Cash Bailey and his entire operation, through methods legal or extra-legal. I’ll let you do the math.

In the interim, Nolte and Hank Pearson debate a reluctant confrontation with the good old boy’s brother. The tête-à-tête is cut short when the brother and several friends pour out of the clapboard General Store with rifles and handguns blazing. In what should be a lopsided win with shotguns, M-16s and pistols, The Ranger and Sheriff hold their own and more with Benteen’s .45 and lever action Winchester backed up by Pearson’s 12 Gauge pump shot gun. Unknowingly being watched by Michael Ironside’s Col. Paul Hackett and Clancy Brown’s MSgt. Larry McRose.

The two watch Pearson fall and the brother die as the survivors flee, only to be ambushed and dispatched by Hackett and McRose shortly thereafter. A mistake is made and shell casings are not policed up and Hackett’s hand is tipped through investigations later on.

As Benteen plays catch-up, another character is introduced. Maria Conchita Alonso as Sarita. The teenage girl who carried a torch for Benteen and Bailey and probably still does. All grown up and signing at a Cantina and who will figure prominently toward the story’s end.

Comes the dawn and the lesser know special operators have staked out the bank with what would now be less than first generation tactical and spy gear in preparation for a heist. The primaries go in. People are frightened as money is stolen and Safety Deposit Boxes rifled. Hackett confronts the crooked banker and kills him while a faraway barn blows up as a diversion. One of the lesser operators is killed and the getaway is disrupted by Benteen, who locks up William Forsythe at his borderline psycho best as Sgt. Buck Atwater and Matt Mulhern as Declan Coker, their heavy weapons man.

Benteen and Hackett finally meet after the shell casings left that the ambush reveal an Army pedigree. Neither trusts the other as Atwater and Coker report on everything they see and hear to Larry B. Scott’s Sgt. Charles Biddle, their tech guy from their jail cell at the Ranger station.

Deals are made, though Hackett would gladly like to see Benteen dead. Since Benteen doesn’t fit in Hackett’s agenda. As Atwater and Biddle are released and Sarita disappears, Benteen joins Hackett and his crew for a trip south of the border. For a protracted confrontation inside a massive adobe fortress amongst a sizable Mexican peasant army that would would make Sam Peckinpah envious.

Benteen just walks right on in, ready to talk Bailey into returning with him sans Sarita. Though willing to end it all in a  showdown with Bailey if push comes to shove.

Only to have the festivities interrupted as ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!

Powers Boothe as Cash Bailey

Hackett and his boys open up with everything they have and whatever else they can get their hands on. Many, many of Cash Bailey’s soldiers fall in a modern shoot ’em up to easily rival the best of  The Wild Bunch. Biddle and Coker pick off strays as McRose catches Hackett literally red handed sticking a knife in Bailey’s befuddled book keeper. A deal is offered and rejected as a stooge stumbles by. Shots are fired and Hackett slips away.

Betrayed, the operators are evenly divided in taking out Bailey’s army and Hackett. Who absorbs many, many hits before McRose unloads with his 12 Gauge. The operators are picked off one by one. The smoke clears and Cash returns with a truck full of soldiers ready to pick up where they left off before all of the fireworks. Undaunted, Benteen tries to talk Bailey into coming back to the US, but Bailey is in too deep and fires. Benteen empties his .45 into his boyhood friend. Reloads and listens to an ultimatum from the new Jefe.

Leave and don’t come back. It seems that the locals didn’t much care for or trust the gringo, Cash Bailey to begin with. Better to keep the operation completely Mexican. Benteen agrees and he and Sarita saunter off into the sunset.

What makes this movie good?

A superb ensemble cast of proven character actors driving the story forward between well timed and executed fights, bank heist and the final homage to Sam Peckinpah gunfights inside Bailey’s fortress. Toss in a plethora of great lines for all and sundry as lies stack on top of lies and the Alpha males vie for supremacy. Add the backdrop of a Ry Cooder-produced soundtrack. Conducted by Jerry Goldsmith as a full orchestra and you have the makings of a film not soon forgotten.

What makes this film great?

Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown and William Forsythe in a film that literally sweats Testosterone. Shortly before ascending into their own reserved niches in the firmament

Walter Hill at the helm directing men in a men’s arena. Allowing time for each cast member to shine and perform some of their most memorable work in what many consider a B- Movie, but is so much more!

Have you seen this film? So share your thoughts in the comments.

26 thoughts on “Guest Review: Extreme Prejudice (1987)

  1. Fine look at this Walter Hill classic, Kevin. Although it may be little known to younger audiences, for WH admirers this is a well recognized modern day western by a underrated filmmaker. I think it is genetically impossible for John Milius not to write testosterone-filled story. And pairing his screenplay with a cast of Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe, and Michael ‘F**king’ Ironside (as he’s affectionately known among his fans) made for one formidable and muscular yarn. I’d agree, as well, that ‘Extreme Prejudice’ is a fine homage to the works of Sam Peckinpah. Finally, Ry Cooder’s musical collaboration with this director (he’s scored a number of Walter Hill’s films since 1980) remains another noteworthy element to what makes the film, and the work of this writer/director/producer, so distinctive. Wonderful appreciative look at this one. Thanks.

    1. Hi, Le0pard:

      Thanks for your much appreciated comments!

      ‘Extreme Prejudice’ is what I would call a ‘Guy Flick’. And a superb one at that!

      Walter Hill has worked within a very small and rarified niche. Proving time and again that he is a great director of men. So, ‘Extreme Prejudice’ seemed like the natural progression after ‘The Long Riders, ‘Southern Comfort’ and ‘Streets Of Fire’. All with music supplied by Ry Cooder.

      Hill seemed to be putting together a cadre or stable of strong actors from previous films to flex their muscles. Romp and play and create some of their best work in this film.

      Besides, who wouldn’t want Nolte, Boothe, Ironside, Torn, Brown and Forsythe in a starting line-up?

  2. Ted S.

    Great review Jack, I love love Extreme Prejudice, I caught it on TV back when I was in 8 or 9th grade and have seen it several times since. I love how you mentioned the homage to Sam Peckinpah, to me this film was sort of a remake/modernized version of The Wild Bunch. Too bad this was little seen by so many people when it opened in theater back in 1987. I was too young to remember why it failed so bad at the box office, I wonder if it was just bad marketing or something. There were so many talents who worked on the film.

    I’m still waiting a Blu-ray release, I lost my DVD copy.

    1. Hi, Ted!

      I’m so glad you liked my write up and critique.

      ‘Extreme Prejudice’ was one of those films that I caught when blew into theaters at the beginning of the month and was gone before its third week. Can’t understand why or how it happened, but it did.

      Thankfully, enough people have seen and liked the film enough that it received new life on DVD. I don’t think it ever went to VHS or Beta.

      Can’t argue with the casting, locations, direction and soundtrack. Or in Hill’s telling an intriguing story well. Especially one that ends with a shoot ’em up that Peckinpah’s ghost would smile over.

      1. If you mention Peckinpah, I know Ted will surely love you 😀

        Great review, Jack, I’m not a big Nick Nolte fan but this looks like a great role for him. Powers Boothe has that memorable booming voice doesn’t he? I only saw him in Atilla, the USA miniseries back in 2000 and I was like, who’s THAT guy? Well, when I wasn’t busy looking at Gerry Butler that is, ha..ha..

        1. Hi, Ruth!

          Thanks so much.

          Great comments!

          Nick Nolte is an acquired taste for some. Best sampled through his very early work in ‘The Deep’, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’, ‘North Dallas Forty’ and ‘Under Fire’. Where he played the damaged protagonist to perfection.

          Powers Boothe’s deep, slow, Texas drawl was made for his role as Cash Bailey. Though seems blessed with the ability to handle any role with style and panache.

          I can see where his work might have briefly distracted you from Mr. Butler. 🙂

    1. Hi, Nostra!

      Thanks for taking the time to peruse and comment.

      There are many, many films that lots of people have never heard of. That have more memorable meat on them in regard to story, cast, and execution than the lion’s share of corporate approved pap today.

      It’s been my great fortune and honor to have found some favorites and let others know about them.

    1. Hi, Scott:

      My pleasure!

      I’m taking advantage of a great opportunity. Which means giving my best efforts.

      ‘Extreme Prejudice’ has a lot going on with its double dealings. That requires attention to detail. And the meat is almost always in the details.

      I also like to let people know what they’re getting into. If some are tempted to see a film that makes me wax poetic. I’ve performed my task well and more’s the better.

  3. This is so 80’s I love it! Walter Hill – Michael Ironside – Clancy Brown. I may have seen this film but I was a pup in the 1980’s, so my memory of it is vague at best.

    Although 48 Hrs. is a Hill classic, I think my personal fave is The Warriors – what a statement on the urban decay in NYC during the 1970s.

  4. Hi, iluv!

    Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting so graciously.

    Walter Hill is a sadly under recognized director who helmed many memorable, near iconic films that fell short on ticket sales. The life blood of corporate Hollywood, today.

    Though he does have the magic of telling a story very, very well.

    ‘The Warriors’ is a great example of getting the most of low budget, on location film making and story telling.

    As are ‘Hard Times’, ‘Southern Comfort’, ‘The Long Riders’, ‘Streets Of Fire’, and ‘Johnny Handsome’. Not to mention his work on television. With ‘Broken Trail’ and HBO’s ‘Deadwood’.

  5. FUNK

    Jack, thanks for bringing this film to my attention, and great write up on it as well, I watched it last weekend and what a outstanding cast.
    The Long Riders is still one of my favorite westerns of the 70’s.
    I’ve got to see Streets of Fire again, what a great music score for that movie and I really liked the cast.

    1. Hi, Funk:

      Thanks for the delightful comments!

      Walter Hill has a lovely knack for finding the right actors. Especially in ‘Extreme Prejudice’ and ‘The Long Riders’. Which is a great stand alone tale and forgotten history lesson. A brilliant move to cast four sets of brothers to play Frank and Jesse, the Youngers, the Millers and the Fords.

      I expected Nick Nolte. Powers Booth and Michael Ironside to do the heavy lifting in ‘Extreme Prejudice’. And they did, flawlessly.

      Though, I was surprised and very impressed with Clancy Brown and William Forsythe. Also Rip Torn’s Sheriff Hank Pearson. Which was eerily similar to a role he played in ‘Flashpoint’ three years earlier.

        1. Hi, Funk:

          I first saw Clancy Brown as Rawhide in ‘Buckaroo Banzai’ and he has piqued my interest ever since.

          Thought he malevolently rocked out loud as The Kurgan in ‘Highlander’. Enjoy his voice work in animation. Especially his Sgt. Charlie Zim in ‘Roughnecks’ and Lex Luhor in ‘Superman: The Animated Series’. When not playing secondary characters in film and television. Notably, his Brother Justin.

  6. Welcome, Bonjour!

    Thanks so much for your gracious comments.

    I just received an E-Mail ad from Amazon for ‘Extreme Prejudice’ and several Walter Hill films. Makes me wonder if Amazon is tracking my guest reviews for sales possibilities.

    ‘Extreme Prejudice’ is selling for $8.99. So, if Amazon has it. There’s a fair chance that Netflix has it for rent.

    A great little film with a superb cast performing some of their best work. Also, fine example of getting the most bang for the buck!

  7. Hi Jack (and Ruth!), I’m going to agree with everyone else: I love your insightful guest posts that bring to everyone’s attention films that we may not have heard of.

    I know of Nick Nolte but, for me, he’s one of those actors where I know the name but not what he’s been in. I love watching Westerns so I’ll add this one to my rental list, get to know Mr Nolte a little better!

    1. Hi, Claire!

      I was hoping you’d drop by.

      Your ‘I know the name, but not what he’s been in’ is the classic definition of a character actor. And Nick Nolte fits that axiom all too well. Finding his niche as a troubled protagonist and hero without a heart of gold and giving it life in several films.

      Nolte hit his zenith between Walter Hill’s 1982’s ’48 Hours’ and 1990’s sequel, ‘Another 48 Hours’. Before moving to smaller and independent films.
      Though in that eight year span, Nolte cranked out some impressive and memorable work.

      Usually leading an ensemble cast, as in ‘Extreme Prejudice’, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ and ‘North Dallas Forty’. Or sharing the screen with heavy hitters of the day. Like Gene Hackman in ‘Under Fire’ or Rober DeNiro and Robert Mitchum in Scorsese’s re-make of ‘Cape Fear’.

      1. Thanks Jack, you really do know your stuff! I like your summary of Nolte: “Finding his niche as a troubled protagonist and hero without a heart of gold and giving it life in several films”.

        There are quite a few actors like that, Peter Stormare and Michael Wincott spring to mind. I always recognise them and think “I’ve seen them somewhere before!”

  8. Jack! Thanks for your highlight of this film. I knew nothing of it until now and wouldn’t mind giving it a shot! Plus, I like the feel that Nick Nolte seems to give the film!

    Nice work sir

    1. Hi, ScarlerSp1der:

      Thanks so much for the compliment and comments!

      Nolte is definitely an old time tough, gritty piece of work in this film. Backed up by other guys nearly as tough.

      Definitely worth seeking out and enjoying!

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