The Best Movie You Never Saw: Extreme Prejudice

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at EXTREME PREJUDICE!

THE STORY: A covert army unit goes to war with Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), a well-connected drug dealer, who also happens to be the childhood best friend of an honest Texas Ranger (Nick Nolte) who’s caught in the middle of what’s turning into a bloody drug war.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe, María Conchita Alonso, and Rip Torn. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Directed by Walter Hill.

THE HISTORY: Like many of you, I was shocked to hear about Powers Boothe passing away earlier this week. While never a household name, he was well-known as a character actor, in a career that spanned four decades. I knew that for this week’s column, I wanted to highlight one of his films, which brought me to Walter Hill’s EXTREME PREJUDICE.

Extreme Prejudice is the last of the Mohicans. I don’t think we’ll ever see a film made like that again. It’s Walter Hill’s homage to Sam Peckinpah, and it’s just a gathering of some really amazing actors, heavyweights. Just to make a piece like that, something that just had this feeling of something long gone by... we’ll never see it again. But it was just a blast creating Buck Atwater, and then you had all these guys who are really nice, who are just one tick off-course in the world, so their causes are no longer clear. It was amazingly great working with all those actors. But it ended up being the only film I did with Walter Hill, and, to be honest, I thought I’d end up making a slew of movies with him. I loved working with him, and we got along great. Who knows? Maybe we’ll still get to work together again. – William ForsytheRandom Roles – AV Club

Sadly obscure to many filmgoers, it was a flop upon release in 1987, even though it reteamed Hill with one of the stars of his 1982 blockbuster, 48 HRS, Nick Nolte. It’s been called Hill’s homage to his mentor Sam Peckinpah, and sure enough, it does feel like a kinda-sorta remake of THE WILD BUNCH. Nolte stars in a rare, straightforward good guy part as a Gary Cooper-ish Texas Ranger, who’s determined to stop the flow of drugs over the border, but finds himself in a tight spot when the drugs lead him to a former friend, Boothe’s Cash Bailey, who’s become a drug baron on the other side of the border. What’s worse is that the two share the same love interest – played by María Conchita Alonso – and if that wasn’t bad enough, a crew of soldiers, called the “Zombie Squad” because they’ve all faked their deaths to do off-the-books work, is also after Bailey.

It’s a heavy-duty, blood-soaked actioner, but also a complicated, morally ambiguous one, something that wasn’t an easy sell in 1987, when the studio, Carolco (responsible for many action classics of the era) tried to sell it as another RAMBO, which it definitely was not. It was cut down at the eleventh hour (and the footage has never seen the light of day), but all to no avail. It only eked out $11 million at the box office, and remains obscure to this day, with only a horrible pan and scan DVD in circulation – a nasty fate for such a cool movie.

That was another one that got cut. That was Walter Hill. Andy Robinson and I play CIA agents, we’re trying to do this whole covert op, and my character was the go-between between the military side of the story, the police side of the story, and the government side of the story. But when they put it all together, Walter said to me, “It looks like it’s starring Michael Ironside, with Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, and Rip Torn supporting him, so we’re gonna cut the whole Andy Robinson side of the film out.” [Laughs.]… They cut something like 45 minutes out of it! – Michael Ironside Random Roles – AV Club

WHY IT'S GREAT: Walter Hill’s a guy who never gets his due. While he’s had a couple of stinkers, he doesn’t get enough credit for his top-flight filmography, which includes THE WARRIORS, THE DRIVER, 48 HRS, STREETS OF FIRE, and time directing “Deadwood” as well as his contributions to ALIEN (he co-wrote, produced and made Ripley a woman). Too many of his movies are unacknowledged gems, like JOHNNY HANDSOME, SOUTHERN COMFORT, THE LONG RIDERS, and this week’s entry, EXTREME PREJUDICE.

This actually should have been a hit, as Nolte was on a career high at the time, and eighties-era audiences loved gory R-rated, extreme action. Maybe it was the political subtext, or the fact that the hero and the villain had such a complicated relationship, or the admittedly jagged construction (you really miss that excised footage) that kept it from getting major critical recognition. Thirty years later, it’s a real, lost classic.

There’s tons to love about the movie – with Nolte the closest he ever came to an old-school Hollywood hero in this rare action lead. But, the show is stolen by the supporting cast. Boothe is especially slick as the white-suited baddie, Cash, who’s got a death wish and half hopes his old buddy will come along and put him out of his misery – making the case the being the king in hell ain’t so hot. The “Zombie Squad” guys are also really cool, with Michael Ironside as their ice-cold leader (seemingly doing a dry run for Richter in TOTAL RECALL – which would come three years later). William Forsythe and Clancy Brown are my favorites of the gang, with Forsythe initially coming off as a maniac, only to gradually reveal a more heroic side, with Brown is the second in command who knows his C.O is up to no good. It all comes together in a major, grand guignol shootout that must have set a squib record back then (only for Hill to be outdone by Paul Verhoeven a few years later). It’s a damn cool movie.

BEST SCENE: In the interests of not spoiling EXTREME PREJUDICE’s best moments for the first time viewer, here’s a little taste of the movie, where cool visuals (set to Jerry Goldsmith’s amazing score) establish the Zombie Squad and their mission.

SEE IT: Here’s where it gets tricky. The North American DVD for this movie is pan and scan garbage. The only real way to see it is by importing the Blu-ray from Europe, where the movie is more highly regarded and has gotten a nicer 1080p transfer in its original aspect ratio. If you’re a fan of this kind of stuff, it’s worth a bind buy.

PARTING SHOT: EXTREME PREJUDICE really is the kind of movie that just doesn’t exist anymore. Sure, guys like Taylor Sheridan, Peter Berg, and David Ayer are giving it a go, but none of them have the latitude Hill did to totally go balls to the wall. It’s an imperfect film, but it’s a damn slick one.

Source: JoBlo.com



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