Trespass is a film directed by one of the masters of action thrillers, Walter Hill, during the early ’90s. Hill is primarily remembered for his first seven films as a director, but he still made a great flick every once in a while after those early years, including Extreme Prejudice, Trespass. Even his most recent film, The Assignment (Tomboy), had its moments despite the ridiculous controversy over it. Trespass was his entry into the burgeoning genre of hood movies” after Hollywood woke up and realised that Black audiences existed again after permitting a drought of black movies in the ’80s with the only real exceptions being some independent filmmakers like Spike Lee and Charles Burnett.
The film itself is basically an update of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: two firefighters, Vince (Bill Paxton) and Don (William Sadler), are given a map to some gold that’s been hidden in a disused building by a crazy old man who died in a fire. Naturally they decided to hunt for the treasure, but they are spotted by a gang headed by Ice T and Ice Cube after they execute an enemy. Throw in a homeless man played by Art Evans who walks in on Vince and Don while they’re hunting for the gold, Don becoming unhinged, a gang trying to kill Vince and Don, and no way out, and you have some serious drama.
Even at his worst, Hill has moments of brilliance, and Trespass is certainly one of his better films. His style and the stories he tells are deeply rooted in westerns, film noir and comic books, and like all those genres they are lean, mean and without much padding. Trespass is built around a classic set-up that would work as a western or a noir, and he excels at building up the drama.
The performances from Paxton and Sadler are great, Sadler is the one who gets gold fever, like Bogie in Sierra Madre, and Paxton is the one who has a conscience. It’s such a loss that Paxton died so recently, because he was one of the best actors around and a pretty good director as well. He did so much work as an actor that there is still plenty to discover. It’s shockingly the only film Ice T and Ice Cube have appeared in together, despite the fact that they have been friends for years and naturally have a chemistry. Both were really at the top of their game as actors at the moment this film was made, with Ice T coming off New Jack City and Ice Cube off Boyz in da Hood. The rest of the cast is primarily rock-solid African-American character actors who you’ve seen in everything.
Trespass is ripe for rediscovery. One of the strangest things about the film is that it was written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. They worked best as a team, with films like the Back to The Future Trilogy and the woefully underrated Used Cars. It was actually a script they wrote during the height of blaxploitation cinema, but it wasn’t considered viable by studios till New Jack City and Boyz in da Hood showed idiot studio heads that there was money to be made. It was clearly partly rewritten by an uncredited Hill with a different ending, but according to everybody involved it’s still relatively close to the original script. Hill slightly downplayed the racial tensions between the firefighters and the gang of the initial script because he was more interested in making an action film, but all of that stuff is still in there.
101 Films, which has been doing excellent work with its boutique sub-label “The Black Series,” has ported over most of the interviews from the Shout Factory’s US release. They add two commentaries: first up with Joel McIver and Angus Batey, and the second with Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger. The release includes a booklet with essays on Hill and his use of Western tropes in an urban setting, and one on how rap stars conquered the big screen in the ’90s.