Extreme Prejudice (film)
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Theatrical film poster
|Directed by||Walter Hill|
|Produced by||Buzz Feitshans
|Written by||John Milius
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Cinematography||Matthew F. Leonetti|
|Edited by||Freeman A. Davies
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
90,307 admissions (France)
Extreme Prejudice is an homage, of sorts, to The Wild Bunch, a western directed by Sam Peckinpah, with whom Hill worked on The Getaway. Both films end with a massive gunfight in a Mexican border town.
The character of Jack Benteen was loosely based on Joaquin Jackson, now a retired Texas Ranger. Nolte spent three weeks in Texas with Jackson learning the day-to-day activities of a Ranger. Nolte took what he learned and incorporated it into his character; the mannerisms and dress.
A teletype message flashes across the screen...
- Master Sergeant Larry McRose, U.S. Army, Frankfurt, West Germany
- Report to Zombie Unit, El Paso, Texas
At the El Paso airport, five U.S. Army sergeants meet up with Major Paul Hackett (Ironside), the leader of the Zombie Unit. The unit is composed of soldiers reported to be killed, and are on temporary assignment under Hackett for this mission.
Jack Benteen (Nolte) is a tough Texas Ranger. His best friend from high school is Cash Bailey (Boothe), an American and former police informer who has crossed into Mexico and become a major drug trafficker. Bailey tries to bribe Benteen to look the other way while sending major drug shipments to the U.S. Benteen refuses, and is left with a warning by Bailey: Look the other way, or die trying.
Later, Benteen and his friend, Sheriff Hank Pearson, end up getting in a shootout with Bailey's men at a gas station outside of town, resulting in Pearson's death. Benteen knows that Bailey set them up. Two of Bailey's men try to escape, but Hackett has them killed by not leaving any witnesses, and after they tried to steal his vehicle.
A D.E.A. agent and several soldiers from the clandestine U.S. Army unit show up in town, all tracking Bailey. When the soldiers rob a local bank to get Bailey's money and a cash deposit box that contains accounts on the drug money he's deposited there, one of the soldiers is killed and two others are captured by Benteen and placed in the town jail. At the station, they discover that the two men are soldiers who faked their deaths, and decided to take down Bailey to prevent any drug shipments from entering the United States.
Benteen is confronted by the D.E.A agent, who turns out to be their commanding officer and reveals their true mission to him to obtain his men's release. Now knowing the full story, Benteen joins with the soldiers and crosses the border into Mexico to track down Bailey and end his drug running. At Bailey's hacienda, Benteen's girlfriend Sarita (Alonso), who was once Bailey's woman, has crossed into Mexico to join him after arguing with Benteen.
At a huge Independence Day festival, Benteen confronts Bailey while the soldiers attack Bailey's private army. Hackett is witnessed shooting Bailey's accountant and, at the same time, revealing himself to be Bailey's partner, who tells one of his men there was no mission, and that they were assigned to die. The town erupts into a gunfight, which few but Benteen and Sarita survive. Hackett and his men get killed in the process. Benteen and Bailey end up in an old west-style showdown, which results in Bailey getting shot to death, rather than surrender. Bailey's right-hand man, Lupo, takes over the drug business and tells Benteen he'll do him a favor some day, while Benteen and Sarita walk away towards an uncertain future.
- Nick Nolte as Ranger Jack Benteen
- Powers Boothe as Cash Bailey
- Michael Ironside as Major Paul Hackett
- María Conchita Alonso as Sarita Cisneros
- Rip Torn as Sheriff Hank Pearson
- Clancy Brown as Master Sergeant Larry McRose
- William Forsythe as Sergeant 1st Class Buckman Atwater
- Matt Mulhern as Staff Sergeant Declan Patrick Coker
- Larry B. Scott as Sergeant 1st Class Charles Biddle
- Dan Tullis, Jr. as Sergeant 1st Class Luther Fry
The film was first announced for production in 1976 with Milius to direct from his own script. "It's very complicated," said Milius. "I've never been able to put what the movie's about in a few words. All I can say is it's a modern-day story about subversion and espionage."
He elaborated in a 1976 interview saying it was "about Special Forces. It's a rightwing political thriller, a rightwing Costa-Gavras film. It takes place in Texas and involves the Texas Rangers as well. I shouldn't talk about it." However he did describe one scene:
There's an operation carried out with peak efficiency where four highly trained specialists wipe out forty men. They don't wipe them out in the usual sense, because they're so good and heroic. I wanted to give the sense that these four are more than a match for forty because they're so skilled at what they do: use of explosives, automatic weapons fire, interlocking fields of fire. Their planning is so precise and perfect: they're used to thinking this way. When you come away from this battle, you're not just impressed with their skill, but also with how cold they are. Ruthlessly efficient. 
He also said there was a line in the film "where a Ranger is talking about being in a gunfight with people in a car and the other guy says, "That gun won't stop a car," and the Ranger says, "It will if you shoot it in the driver." That's a Milius line. I'm trying to get away from that; the rest of the script is very flat. I'm trying to write more mundane now. Rather than dazzle constantly, I'm trying to let the weight of the story carry it, and the more subtle implications of it, letting scenes play themselves out the way they would in reality. We'll see what happens. It's a definite development."
The film was to be made in October 1976 in Texas, but Milius instead decided to make Big Wednesday.
The project was revived in the 1980s by Carolco Pictures, then flush with money from the success of Rambo: First Blood Part II.
Then they signed Walter Hill to direct and he hired Harry Kleiner to rewrite the film. Hill had known Kleiner from the film Bullitt, on which Hill was an assistant director and Kleiner the writer; Hill was impressed by Kleiner's talent for writing and rewriting on the set daily, which he needed for this film.
The lead role was played by Nick Nolte with whom Hill had made 48 Hours. Hill:
I wanted someone who was representative of the tradition of the American West -- taciturn, stoical, enduring. Someone who carried a lot of pain with him. I told Nick, 'The kind of thing I'm talking about is Cooperesque.' I had him look at a lot of Gary Cooper films.
Nick Nolte said the role made a change of pace for him:
It was a chance to play a morally perfect character. Like Walter said, we spent a lot of time looking at old films to get this Old West flavor. We looked at Wayne films, at Cooper films, at Randolph Scott films. Yeah, there's a lot of High Noon in this movie. There's a lot of Howard Hawks director of Red River. There's a lot of Sam Peckinpah... I needed to find the demeanor of how those '40s characters carried themselves -- how they dressed and carried their guns.
Nolte got writer friend Peter Gent who had written North Dallas Forty to recommend a real-life Texas Ranger to act as a model for his character. Gent suggested veteran Ranger Joaquin Jackson. Jackson later said he:
More or less edited the script with Nick. We got more into the type of language Rangers use, as well as the Rangers' relationship with other law enforcement agencies -- the federal narcotics people, FBI, etc. What I'm trying to get back to the press is that it all relates back to narcotics.
This film is kind of about the drug wars. Walter and I wanted to do a story about the distribution of drugs, not in the city, but across the border. There's two points of view about this drug situation in America. One is educational, and the other has to do with the prevalence of drugs, the availability of them. Being a child out of the '60s, I was very much involved in drugs. If you wanted to be part of the subculture in the '60s, you had to seek out your drugs. It's different today. Kids don't have a chance. They're confronted by drugs on every block... It sounds hypocritical, I know, but there's not so much hypocrisy being a child of the '60s and having to make this kind of change because we come from a generation that accepts change.
The role of Nolte's antagonist was played by another actor who had worked with Hill before, Powers Boothe. Boothe:
Every movie Walter's ever made is a western - it's just that people don't know it. Thematically, men standing up for themselves and making their way in the world is a theme that's been in movies throughout the world. But it's particularly an American genre, and it has to do, in my mind, with the development of our nation: you can do anything you're strong enough to do; right is right, and wrong is wrong. And at least in the movies, right wins out.
Walter Hill had worked with Sam Peckinpah in the early 1970s on The Getaway and said he "tipped my hat to Sam a couple of times" in the film. Michael Ironside later recalled that the film was greatly cut in post production:
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 [Hill] 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!
Ironside said a highlight of the film was meeting composer Ry Cooder.
Ry had an ancient guitar—it was about 100 years old —that he was using for the soundtrack, and it got stolen off the set when we were shooting. That was a priceless guitar that he’d brought in because he was giving Walter ideas on what he wanted to do. We were shooting down on one of the old sets, at the studio where they shot the burning of Atlanta in Gone With The Wind, and there were a lot of other things shooting there, so there was a lot of traffic going through the studio. I remember him coming back at one point, and he was all panicked. I said, “What’s the matter?” He said, “I can’t find my guitar!” Someone had just picked up his guitar case and walked off. I remember he was so devastated by that. He said, “It’s not that they stole it; it’s that they won’t understand the value of it.” He was just gutted by that. It was such a sad day.
According to soundtrack notes;
Funeral scene of sheriff Hank Pearson was deleted after first two screenings of the movie. Soundtrack release for the movie does however includes track called "The Funeral" which was composed by Jerry Goldsmith for that deleted scene.
After filming of final shootout was done, director Walter Hill was told to include more of it so he went back and shot more footage but in the end he cut it down because, in his words, "it got too big". This is probably why this scene has some continuity mistakes which are often thought to be caused by cuts made on violent scenes in order to avoid X rating.
Tri Star Pictures studio executives disliked the first version of theatrical trailer so they made their own. However, their version of the trailer made the movie look like it's ex-soldiers vs Texas Ranger type of movie, which it isn't. Jerry Goldsmith composed the music for original trailer but after it was rejected the track which he composed was not used. Instead the trailer which was released included two tracks from other movies; Paul's Theme by Giorgio Moroder from Cat People (1982) and Evacuation by Mike Oldfield from The Killing Fields (1984).
Tri Star announced the film as their Christmas release for the year which upset the filmmakers as they had planned to finish it by April.
Hill later said "I don't think it was understood how much genre parodying was involved in that picture. It rather mystified a lot of American critics but it has its defenders."
Nick Nolte later said the response to the movie was "a little tougher" than the success of his previous collaboration with Hill, 48 Hours.
Extreme Prejudice debuted at the US box office with $3.5 million at 1,071 screens its first weekend. It was not a box office success.
The film was released on videocassette in the United States in 1987 by International Video Entertainment and again in 1989 by the same company. In 1991, it was re-released on VHS by Avid Home Entertainment, but in the EP (low quality) Mode. In 2001, Artisan Entertainment finally released the DVD, but in pan-and-scan and without bonus features. A DVD in the United Kingdom shows the film in widescreen and also contains the theatrical trailer as well as the teaser trailer and a 1987 5 minute documentary .
The U.S. DVD has been criticized for its low quality transfer and lack of features. In Scandinavia a Blu-ray is available, but only in 1080i50 and a compressed English Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. In Japan a region free 1080p Blu-ray is available with English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 track.
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- Thompson, Richard (July-Aug 1976). "STOKED". Film Comment 12.4. p. 10-21. Check date values in:
- LA CLIPS Trrading Porky's for the Big Apple Deans, Laurie. The Globe and Mail [Toronto, Ont] 22 Feb 1985: E.5.
- Broeske, Pat H. (10 May, 1987). "Son Of 'Bullitt'". Los Angeles Times. Check date values in:
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- "Mr. Beaks Takes A Trip Back To TOMBSTONE With Curly Bill Brocius Himself, Powers Boothe!" Aint It Cool News 27 April 2010 accessed 6 February 2014
- Action man with an eye for character Dwyer, Michael. The Irish Times (1921-Current File) [Dublin, Ireland] 13 Jan 1989: 14.
- "Michael Ironside on Turbo Kid, Highlander II, and being in the real McBain" By Will Harris The AV Club Feb 4, 2015 accessed 6 February 2015
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- "Extreme Prejudice". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
- "On The Run With Nick Nolte 'Three Fugitives' Star Explains How He Thrives On Chaos" by Amy Longsdorf The Morning Call 27 Jan 1989 accessed 6 Feb 2015
- "Weekend Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-02.