Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) is a Texas Ranger who has taken a very different path than his childhood buddy, Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), a ruthless drug lord. While Benteen and Bailey are on opposites sides of the law, they share a common interest in the lovely Sarita Cisneros (Maria Conchita Alonso), who has been involved with both men. The tension between Benteen and Bailey gets further heightened when the lawman plays a key role in a major narcotics bust, resulting in a fierce showdown.
Extreme Prejudice is a 1987 American action western film starring Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe.
The film was directed by Walter Hill; it was written by John Milius, Fred Rexer and Deric Washburn (the latter collaborated with Michael Cimino on Silent Running and The Deer Hunter).
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 title originates from "terminate with extreme prejudice," a phrase popularized by Apocalypse Now, also written by John Milius.
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 Texas Ranger and a ruthless narcotics kingpin - they were childhood friends, now they are adversaries.
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 Baileys men at a gas station outside of town, resulting in Pearsons death. Benteen knows that Bailey set them up. Two of Baileys 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 Baileys money and a cash deposit box that contains accounts on the drug money hes 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 mens 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 Baileys hacienda, Benteens girlfriend Sarita (Alonso), who was once Baileys 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 Baileys private army. Hackett is witnessed shooting Baileys accountant and, at the same time, revealing himself to be Baileys 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. Baileys right-hand man, Lupo, takes over the drug business and tells Benteen hell 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
Maria 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. "Its very complicated," said Milius. "Ive never been able to put what the movies about in a few words. All I can say is its a modern-day story about subversion and espionage." It was to be made in October 1976 in Texas, but Milius instead decided to make Big Wednesday.
The project was revived in the 1980s, when Walter Hill hired Harry Kleiner to rewrite it. Hill had known Kleiner from the film Bullitt, on which Hill was an assistant director and Kleiner the writer; Hill was impressed by Kleiners 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 Im 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, theres a lot of High Noon in this movie. Theres a lot of Howard Hawks director of Red River. Theres 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 Im 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. Theres 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. Its different today. Kids dont have a chance. Theyre confronted by drugs on every block... It sounds hypocritical, I know, but theres 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 Noltes antagonist was played by another actor who had worked with Hill before, Powers Boothe. Boothe:
Every movie Walters ever made is a western - its just that people dont know it. Thematically, men standing up for themselves and making their way in the world is a theme thats been in movies throughout the world. But its particularly an American genre, and it has to do, in my mind, with the development of our nation: you can do anything youre 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 its ex-soldiers vs Texas Ranger type of movie, which it isnt. 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; Pauls 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.
The movie received generally positive reviews. It currently holds a 71% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 7 reviews with an average rating of 6.4/10.
Hill later said "I dont 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.
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.