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A version of this comparison has already been posted over at "Salvador"
Salvador is Olvier Stone's best work and James Woods' finest performance. Perhaps my only regret about this movie has to do with it not going nearly far enough in depicting the brutality of the US client regime in El Salvador. But this observation does not count, as it doesn't have anything to do with the film as presented. A critique of Salvador would do much better to note that there are very few films about the political situation in Central America, period. Persons who are interested in the subject matter might do well to compare this Stone effort with the much earlier Under Fire (1983), a film which boasts superlative performances by Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman. Under Fire is perhaps one of the most under appreciated films, not just of the 1980s, but of all time. Both Under Fire and Salvador are head and shoulders above Ken Loach's limited tale of a Nicaraguan refugee's individual trauma - Carla's Song (made much later in 1996). Both earlier films were made at the time Central America was a major obsession of the Reagan Administration (which went so far as to suggest AK-47 toting Sandinistas were about to invade the Texas border). On account of this background alone, the respective cast and crews of both films deserve the sort of praise we should usually reserve for true artists rather than Hollywood's employees.
Both Salvador and the much earlier Under Fire are very close in their subject matter: portraying disinterested journalists who only after becoming aware of the gravity of the situation in which they find themselves turn unsympathetic towards clients of the American Empire. The sort of journalists which have been entirely purged from the corporate-owned "mainstream" or "embedded" press in the United States (and the EU too).
Both films do an outstanding job of noting the protagonists' rivals in the form of spin doctors for the regime whether from the US State Department or the corporate media. Characters like Salvador's ANS reporter Pauline Axelrod (played by Valerie Wildman) force us to recall the perverted scribblings of James Lemoyne (New York Times), the godfather of Embedded American Journalism; his students honored in that tribute to the corporate press, Welcome to Sarajevo (1997). Call that film for what it is: the anti-Salvador.
Under Fire goes much deeper than Stone's film in questioning the ethics of journalism and the sort of circumstances which compel individuals to look at the bigger picture. The depiction of the conflict between Hackman and Nolte, on both personal and professional levels, makes it a very rewarding film. Salvador's portrait of a troubled has-been photojournalist who undergoes a sort of radical shock therapy in a war zone is different, but certainly no less interesting.
I have to give the decisive edge to Under Fire for drawing much more attention to the nature and breadth of the foreign support upon which the corrupt Central American dictatorships relied. Salvador has a US helicopter turn up in the middle of a battle, an ambassador portrayed as indifferent, and that's about it. Under Fire, in contrast, has excellent performances by a young Ed Harris and Jean-Louis Tritignant as pro-regime killers, roles which draw attention to the nature and morality of those embattled dictatorships.
Salvador counters with a much more interesting profile of some of the members of the so-called "government" and its military. In Under Fire, we just see Anastasio Somoza depicted as an insignificant car salesman type in the background who also happens to be the latest heir to the dynasty which ruled over Nicaragua for much of the 20th century. This was a wee bit dissatisfying.
The major differences between the films are technical and stylistic. Some may prefer Stone's use of tight editing and rather fanciful action sequences. I personally preferred Under Fire's determined efforts to bring out as much stark realism as possible on screen especially in the battle scenes, which are among the most authentic attempts to portray urban and guerrilla warfare in the history of cinema. No, it's not as pretty as Tom Cruise dropping bombs to the accompaniment of Kenny Loggins, and any film which reveals as much deserves special praise. One wonders if "Under Fire" or "Salvador" could be made in Hollywood today.
A 9/10 for Salvador and a 9/10 for Under Fire, and again hats off to all associated with films which one can hardly imagine being made in this Orwellian or "embedded" age.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Good films about politics are rare. Films which successfully combine
politics and a love story are even rarer. "Under Fire" manages this
Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy give superlative performances as the trio of journalists caught up in the passion and excitement of the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. That wonderful photographer John Alcott catches some magical images and Jerry Goldsmith composes a score so good you will want to seek out the album.
This is a film full of moments that will live in your memory, not least the shocking, tragic consequence of Nolte's willingness to assist the rebels. It brings home the chaos and confusion of war but also its moments of elation : "I'd do it again", says Nolte at the triumphant conclusion. Before that, the spy Jazy, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, an urbane, cultured but completely amoral killer, tells us that we will only know the truth of what happened in Nicaragua once 20 years have passed.
Well, those 20 years are now behind us. The right side won. And this film, with its eloquent photography and soaring soundtrack, may turn even the most apolitical person into a Sandinista.
"Under Fire" is a well-written, well-acted piece, showing photo-journalists operating in the milieu of insurrections in Chad, then Nicaragua. Watching Gene Hackman, Nick Nolte and Ed Harris perform together was a treat. And the writers gave them terrific lines. "This is a great war: good guys, bad guys, and lots of cheap shrimp." I especially liked when Hackman's character asked if Nolte's character had slept with Hackman's woman when their relationship hits the skids, and Nolte answers directly, "Hell no, Alex. We're friends." And you just know Nolte's character meant it, man to man. Great moment. Also appealing was the way third-world conflicts were portrayed as global brushfires; put out one here, while another flares up over there. Using the real civil war in Somoza's Nicaragua gives the film unexpected credibility. And probably in keeping with reality, Ed Harris has several memorable scenes as a pure mercenary, a globe-trotting soldier-for-hire, who shows up where the gun-battle action is. His last line is something like "See you in Laos". The beat goes on. -ejpede
A sophisticated film with more than one level, while its sympathies obviously tend to lie with the Sandinistas, it also has the message that in war there are no moral absolutes, and raises some interesting dilemmas. Its portrayal of violence is brutally convincing without being gratuitously gory. One possible flaw in Nolte's character is that it's hard to believe that a man apparently given to fairly regular reckless behaviour would have lasted so long hanging around in war zones.
This film was a surprisingly quality portrayal of the difficulties
faced by those in underdeveloped countries too often overrun by corrupt
It is presented through the eyes of a photo-journalist (played by Nick Nolte) & his contacts, as they pursue the news stories we in supposedly advanced nations, witness each day on our television screens. Of course, it is subjective but presented with an appropriate sense of the drama & courage that's needed to bring such coverage of gross injustice to the detached conscience of those whose governments often make insensitive contributions to the peoples, mainly peasants & the oppressed. These poor & downtrodden people cannot speak for themselves & rely on such photojournalism to be their mouthpiece to the wider world. It has applications far beyond Nicaragua, across all continents, for human rights' abuse was rife 20 years ago when the film was made, & is today, & likely will be far beyond.
Unlike too many modern movies that are action-filled with special effects but largely without plot, this movie does deliver. The central figure portrayed engages in a series of hit & run encounters with the authorities & its mostly ruthless army of foot soldiers. He & his associates live on their individual & collective wit's end. Within seconds, the victims can go from pursuer to the pursued. Let alone the predicament that local peoples find themselves in, for they would rarely if ever, be accepted into the supposedly developed nations whose propaganda currently rules the world, no matter how unjustly or offensively or insensitively it is applied.
Likewise, the survival of the photojournalists & their associates, are caught in dilemmas of conscience. For the oppressed peoples they dare to cover the struggles & injustice & suffering of, seem to be meat in the sandwich of leaders who use & abuse such locals, as puppets. Journalists often depend on the contacts they form, however transcient their interaction. The woman who beckons him into a backyard sanctuary; the woman who refers a request for directions to the authorities; a priest tortured & suffering unjustly while sharing a jail cell; the occasional compassionate soldier with heart enough for his potential victims vs dictatorial unjust judgements; people willing to bravely die for their cause in the name of their causes of their heart. Such as these present unpredictable twists adding to the unfolding drama, where war is being found & fought on many levels, personal & within or beyond organisations.
As such, "Under Fire" gives the viewer a reality in which to help a viewer to understand much more than it presents, or dares to represent. The roles of friendship, empathy & compassion present in many unlikely forms, so too, the consequences, even fatality, from the slightest failure to read the signs or sense danger, while the ruthless pursue goals without concern but for their hierarchy of self-made regulations & adherence to them.
All up, a quality movie not to be missed, and one which is likely to linger & enrich your appreciation of war correspondents of integrity & conviction, willing to lay their lives on the line.
As a Nicaraguan-American who lived there during the opening thunderclaps
the full scale Sandinista revolt, I must say I was extremely impressed
this movie as a whole. Although it takes a slight turn to the political
left, it manages to keep the story on an even keel and not embelish so.
It is interesting that by far the truest insight is delivered by the cynical French opportunist. Tyranny and oppression lay on both sides of the political fence. If the right hand doesn't get you, the left one will. When the FSLN took power in 1979, they immediately announced their communist regime much to the chagrin of the populace (personally, I believe in this crazy little thing called "freedom").
The people who were just liberated from 40 years of right wing (US supported) tyranny, now had it from the (Soviet supported) left, and then some. Proof of this was the mass exodus of Nicas to other places, and the (US backed, of course) "Contra" rebels, made up of former Sandinistas who immediately took up arms against their former comrades, and fought for a proper democracy, which was finally achieved when the USSR folded its cards in the late 80s.
Nicaragua was then free.
This movie really hits the mark in many ways. It's the best movie of its
In the opening scene in some unspecified African civil war Nick Nolte, war
journalist, discovers Ed Harris, mercenary, riding in the wrong truck
surrounded by his enemies. Harris hasn't realized that after the
of the battle he climbed in a truck of soldiers from the opposite side.
They in turn haven't realized that Harris isn't their mercenary. Harris
says, `I guess they'd really be p***ed if they knew.'
This scene sets the theme for the movie perfectly. Not only doesn't the
mercenary care which side he is on, but it is implied that the sides are
pretty much interchangeable and it doesn't much matter who's truck we
This is pretty much Nolte's attitude as he travels from one war to
We begin to suspect he isn't that different from Harris.
But affairs in Nicaragua make his neutrality seem immoral and he is forced
to choose between his journalistic ethics and his humanitarian ones.
Great writing is matched by great acting from Hackman, Harris and Nolte and Johanna Cassidy.
If you want a documentary about the Sandinista's, go watch a documentary. If you want a thrilling love-story set around a fast-paced, intelligent script about people who want to do the best they can under difficult circumstances, then this is the film for you. Good acting, superb music, a good use of locations and atmospheres. This must be one of Nolte's best performances. Of course Rafael did not exist, but this is a movie, not a portrayal of real facts. The story works perfectly in this movie, and that is what's important. If you're looking for a flick that entertains, touches you without being too sentimental, and you like some action, then Under Fire is certainly worth seeing.
I have revisited this film after many years, primarily to see the Gene Hackman that is and has always been and the Nick Nolte that was. The love triangle (Hackman/Cassidy/Nolte) is awkward and unnecessary but the pace of the events depicted are satisfyingly fast-moving and expertly set up. This particularly applies to the rooftop skirmishes early in the Nicaraguan scenes and especially the finale, when Nolte's photographer is hounded around town. The confrontation between Hackman's TV star and Somozas military is one of those "DID YOU SEE THAT" moments which are frightening because they are oh so believable. Hackman, Nolte and Cassidy apart, there are very very watchable performances from Ed Harris as an amoral globe-trotting mercenary and Jean Louis Trintignant as a deeply devious master manipulator. Like the other South American political classic "Salvador" this very good movie has impressively stood the test of time.
This is Nick Nolte at his best in a first rate romantic thriller. Set in Nicaragua but filmed in Mexico, Under Fire captures the look and feel of revolutionary Central America, easily drawing the viewer into the horror of life under the Somosa puppet regime. If you liked "Under Fire" check-out "Salvador" or "Romero" for the same gritty realism -- these are 3-movies that cause one to think and to question.
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