The story elements in "Extreme Prejudice" are so ancient they sound like ad copy: Two strong men, one good, one evil, battle each other for justice - and for the heart of the woman they both love. Walter Hill is the right director for this material. He specializes in male action movies where the characters are all a little taller, leaner, meaner and more obscene than in real life.
Hill doesn't really try to avoid the cliches in a story like this. He simply turns up the juice. Like his "Southern Comfort," "48 Hrs.," and "The Warriors," this is a movie that depends on style, not surprises. He doesn't want to make a different kind of movie; he wants to make a familiar story look better than we've seen it look recently. And yet there is a big surprise in "Extreme Prejudice" in the appearance and character of Nick Nolte.
When last seen, Nolte had successfully overcome his early pretty-boy image and turned into one of the shabbier ruins on the landscape of American leading men. His performance in "Teachers" needed a diagnosis, not a review. But then, about halfway through "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," he underwent some kind of metamorphosis. He shaved off the beard and emerged as a weathered, older, more attractive actor; for the first time, I realized that he had the materials to become a big-league star like Cooper or Gable.
In "Extreme Prejudice," he is working in the Cooper tradition. He is leaner than before, his face chiseled like some Western artifact, and he wears his Texas Ranger hat down on his forehead, so his eyes are always in shadow. He works the border, trying to control the drug trade, and at night he comes home exhausted to the bed of his girl (Maria Conchita Alonso).