This Walter Hill film has a very interesting back story. It might be my favourite of Hill’s movies. He’s best known for his modern westerns, like this film.
It started life as a John Milius script. Milius is one of the old-time renegades of Hollywood, who declared himself a Maoist, an anarchist and a right-wing extremist often in the same interview! Production was announced in 1976, around the time that Apocalypse Now was being made, with Milius calling it a “right-wing Costa-Gavras film.” That’s definitely not how it actually turned out. Eventually Hill, who had been friends with Milius since forever, came along to pick up the project with a rewritten script. That was mainly completed by Derek Washburn, who was Michael Cimino’s screenwriting partner on both Silent Running and The Deerhunter. Harry Kleiner also had a hand in the script—Kleiner wrote a lot of film noirs back in the way. Fred Rexer, who was a bit of a hanger-on with Milius, gets a credit but probably didn’t do much. And Hill most likely had a crack at the script as well.
It’s a really solid, slightly noirish neo-Western with a solid nuts-and-bolts story. Nick Nolte plays Texas Ranger Jack Benteen, who has been friends with drug kingpin Cash Bailey (Powers Booth) since childhood. Nolte’s girlfriend Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso) used to be with Cash. She gets back with her ex, creating a conflict between the friends. On top of that there is a planned drug bust, and she ends up being an voluntary hostage. And both men end up butting heads with a CIA-funded paramilitary leader played by Michael Ironside.
Extreme Prejudice is a smarter and more complicated movie than Milius may have wanted it to be: It’s not exactly pro-CIA or pro-the powers that be. It’s a well-made film that hearkens back to High Noon in particular, Budd Boetticher westerns, and the films of Sam Peckinpah. Of all Hill’s films, it’s the one that comes closest to a straight Peckinpah-style movie. It’s a strong film, with Nolte in his most actiony mode. He lost a lot of weight for the role, and pulls off playing a Gary Cooper type really well. Booth’s character is initially the bad guy—this was his second collaboration with Hill. Michael Ironside appears as the main villain of the piece, and is reliable was always. Rip Torn plays the sheriff, and the film features a very early Clancy Brown performance as well as Larry McRose, part of the paramilitary team.
It’s an intelligent take on the Western, updated for what was going on in the ‘80s with cross-border drug operations and the CIA’s shady dealing in Central America. It’s nice to revisit films like this, as these kinds of movies don’t get made on this scale anymore with quality actors, which is a real shame, instead the high quality versions of these films are now relegated to being a TV series. There is real craft to the film and a good script, it’s not three washed-up actors in a VOD vehicle like many current action movies. As with the majority of Hill’s moves, there’s a score by Ry Cooder.
Extras include a new commentary by film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke; intervews with Ironside, Brown and cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti; isolated score selections with audio commentary by film historian John Takis, a vintage making-of, original trainers and a stills gallery. It has everything that’s on the US Vestron release, except for a lengthy 2019 interview with Walter Hill. Both releases are around the same price so depending on your region capabilities you may want to go with the US disc, the UK release does has some nice art-cards as well.