Greetings, Glancers! This one was suggested a long time ago by fellow movie blogger and connoisseur John over at Cinematic Coffee. Check out his site for detailed reviews, discussions, and myriad director lists. John is a Walter Hill fan, as we all should be given his output and influence, and he wanted to hear my favourite Hill films.
Starting out as a writer, Hill’s early directorial voice is clear from the films he scripted or helped on – gritty, masculine, hard-hitting, and one of the fore-running of the buddy-cop/mismatched partnership/clashing of backgrounds which would come to define his best work. The Getaway, The Drowning Pool and others would set him on the path to becoming a director, though he would consistently remain a creative writing and producing force through his career. In 1975, he opened his Director’s Chair account and since then he has directed twenty six movies and TV Shows.
For me, Hill’s best work was from the tail end of the 1970s to the late 80s, a period when he enjoyed commercial and critical success. Since then, both have largely avoided him but his impact on both action and thriller genres should not be underestimated and his films are always challenging on multiples levels and a great tool for upcoming creators to learn from.
It was either going to be this or Streets Of Fire. While I like Streets Of Fire for its ambition, it doesn’t always work and to me comes off as just another curio of 80s macho action. Curio is a good word to describe much of Hill’s work – he never exactly goes against the grain but takes what is popular at the time and adds a unique, left wing twist on things. Trespass is a post Reservoir Dogs, pre Pulp Fiction crime movie with a script from over a decade earlier but which feels like it was released two years too early. Bill Paxton and William Sadler play firemen who meet an unusual old man moments before he dies who leads them on a quest for stolen riches. They end up becoming embroiled in a gang war involving Ice Cube AND Ice T and a fight over the gold. It’s basically a Pirate movie set in modern day Illinois. It’s a film of its time but one which deserves to find an audience now – it was released around the time of the LA riots and due to some of the subject matter the studios didn’t give it the attention it warranted
9. The Long Riders
A Western which meets the curio quota – first, not many Westerns were being made in the 80s, and second it makes great use of Hollywood’s history of nepotism by casting some of the most famous Hollywood families as its stars. We have three Carradines, two Keaches, two Quaids, and two Guests – it’s a cool idea and not one many directors have tried over the years. The film takes its inspiration from the antics of Jessie James and the groups he ran with and against, and the men tasked with bringing them down. It’s more violent than many of the Westerns which came in the middle of the 70s and doesn’t paint the favourite American heroes in a heroic light. Like Hill’s best work though, it shows ‘hard times’ with a deft hand and engaging photography.
8. Extreme Prejudice
After some interludes into musicals and comedies, Hill returned to what he did best – tough guys dealing with no-win situations. The great cast includes Hill favourites Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe, along with Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, Clancy Brown, and Maria Conchita Alonso. Nolte is a stoic border town Sheriff going up against his ex best friend Boothe who turned to the dark side and became a drug runner. There’s this personal war between two old pals who took opposing paths despite coming from the same place, and there’s the B plot which eventually merges with the main story about a covert group of soldiers – cold and ruthless killers who are sent in to do the dirty jobs no-one else is capable of. With a story from John Milius you can expect more violence, great one-liners, and as the title suggests, politics and viewpoints and resolutions from the more extreme right of centre.
7. Southern Comfort
Scaling down some of the larger ideas and set pieces of his previous work, Southern Comfort is nevertheless an ambitious and deep project. Again dealing with opposing forces of men, opposing individuals, and people from different backgrounds forced into working together to defeat a common foe, it draws inevitable comparisons with Deliverance thanks to its setting and survivalist tone. It follows a group of Natural Guard guys out on some routine training in Louisiana. The group is a mixture of yahoos, yokels, and incompetent wannabee soldiers. Powers Boothe stars as the newbie to the group, transferred in from Texas and pissed off by how uncivilized and unskilled the group is. Carradine is the easy-going Private who tries to defend his group as men just having a good time. Inevitably getting lost, they encounter a group of Cajun locals deep in the bayou and one of the group stupidly begins firing at them with his blank rounds. Naturally the locals fight back – except they are trained and skilled hunters and fighters with deep knowledge of the terrain. It’s like Rambo in reverse. It’s a film I loved more in my youth because I remembered it having more action than it actually has. Now seen through older eyes, it feels more like a film about a bunch of idiots encroaching on territory which doens’t belong to them, and having to face the consequences. It’s well acted by the main players but not enough of the surrounding cast have long enough to have their characters fleshed out – a smaller group with more time dedicated to their flaws would have resulted in a more devastating film, but it’s still one which grips and entertains.
Like any number of Walter Hill movies, Geronimo never received the audience or credit it deserves. Hill gets to make the full blown Western he always wanted to and with a superb lead performance from Wes Studi it’s another Hill film which should be revisited. American audiences aren’t known for watching films where the lead is not a white guy they can relate to, yet the story of Geronimo is both fascinating and prescient. It follows the real life story of the Apache Indian forced to live on a US Reservation and deal with the associated humiliation. Refusing to cope with his forefather’s land being stolen and living according to the whim of the white man, Geronimo leads a splinter group who start to cause trouble for the Government and the military. Enter Jason Patrick who is tasked with capturing Geronimo and bringing his revolt to an end. Over the course of the film the two men are shown to be fighting for their beliefs and coming to respect each other. Still, as it’s Hill there’s a fair amount of action and violence in there. Aside from the main two performers, Gene Hackman, Matt Damon, and Robert Duvall all show up. It’s a film which always seemed to be on during my Summer Holidays at the Caravan/Camping park we went to every year, meaning that the next day me and my mates would be charging about the beaches and forests pretending to scalp people. PRETENDING.
5. Another 48 Hours
An unfortunate side effect of always making whatever you want to or hitting those curios or niche markets is that you rarely have a hit. A sequel to one of his biggest hits seemed like a sure-fire win for Hill, and bringing together Nolte and Murphy once more basically guaranteed the film would print money. The buddy formula was reaching its end but the chemistry between the two leads and Hill’s comfort dealing with the action and humour meant that the film is more of the same – it’s not as good as the first one but it will still make you laugh and it has plenty of bullet holes as Reggie and Jack reluctantly team up once again.
4. Brewster’s Millions
The story had already been filmed numerous times before Hill decided to do his version, and what better backdrop to make the film than in the bloodthirsty, Republican led, every man for himself era of 1980s New York? I don’t know what it is about Richard Pryor’s 80s movies, but to me they’re all hilarious – just watered down enough to be palatable to families, but just madcap enough that we got to see what a true talent he was. If you’re not familiar with the story, it concerns an everyday Joe being informed that an old relative has died leaving him $300 million, as long as he can complete several tasks. First, he must decide to either walk away with $3 million – no questions asked, or if he can spend $30 million in 30 days he will get the full $300 million. Of course he goes for the second option, and of course there are caveats which the comedy spins off from – he can’t simply give it all to charity, he cannot tell anyone what he’s doing etc. Pryor is the ideal person to play Brewster – those expressive eyes conveying desperation, exasperation, and hilarity better than anyone. Add in John Candy as his best mate and a bunch of hangers on, money man, and legal types, and we have a fast moving, family comedy the likes of which you rarely see anymore. It’s a very unusual film for Hill to helm, but he handles it perfectly.
3. The Warriors
My top three picks are mostly interchangeable. The Warriors is one of those movies that everybody seems to love, but nobody seems to talk about outside of cult movie circles. I don’t think I’ve ever shown it to anyone who didn’t love it. I love the premise of trying to get across a city while besieged by all sides, and I love that it uses gang warfare rather than say zombies or some other supernatural event. A student of Ancient Greek and Roman literature and mythology, I also love that it’s loosely based around Anabasis – which tells of an army’s voyage home through enemy territory. At a push, it goes back to The Odyssey as a voyage home, my favourite of any sub-sub-genre. The film follows the titular Warriors – one of nine gangs in NYC who have come together to agree upon a truce which would allow the gangs to essentially rule the city. The dude with the plan is murdered, the blame is placed upon The Warriors, and a hit is put on their heads meaning every gang in the city is after them.
It’s a simple idea but Hill is in total command of the material – stylish, violent, and with a potent and convincing cast it paints NYC as a cold and unforgiving arena where territorial skirmishes are an hourly occurrence and you’re not safe unless you’re with your own kind on your own turf. Beck, Remar, and Kelly are each great and it’s maybe Hill’s most visually impressive film.
2. 48 Hours.
If there’s one thing these top three/four films have in common for me it’s that they are so rewatchable. They’re junk with substance – delicious yet rewarding. 48 Hours is probably the most universally rewatchable thanks to the smart and funny script led by Eddie Murphy at his best and Nick Nolte as the robust, perpetually pissed off foil. Barely a minute passes without something funny being said or seen, and if all else fails there’s plenty of violent 80s action to fall back on. For my money it’s the best buddy cop movie ever made, and it rarely puts a foot wrong.
- The Driver.
For the longest time I would rave to anyone and everyone about how good The Driver was. Then that movie with Ryan Gosling came about, and then Baby Driver, and a few more people suddenly claimed they loved this one too. The Driver contains some of the best car chases you’ll ever see and a bare bones hard boiled plot which exists just to remind us how cool Ryan O’Neal could be and how Bruce Dern could go full Nicholson before Nicholson ever did. The film was ripped to shreds upon release, but I loved it the first time I saw it. The main characters are unnamed, a deliberate choice and throwback to noir ideals, and the story is lean, leaving only sporadic dialogue, threats, and chases. For any fans of Drive and Baby Driver, or car-centric action movies in general, go back to the source – this is the source.
Let us know in the comments what you think of my picks and share your favourite Walter Hill Movies!