Under Fire (1983)
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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.
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.
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.
Great writing is matched by great acting from Hackman, Harris and Nolte and Johanna Cassidy.
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.
But at the same time it's impossible to be impartial, unless you're completely ignorant of your subject. The tendency to judge things as "good" or "bad" is probably hard wired in human nature, and for good reasons. When our hominid ancestors first encountered a strange object or situation, they must have made instant decisions about whether this was going to turn out to be good or bad for them -- otherwise they'd get eaten and not have any more kids.
Nick Nolte does what most professionals do. He tries to think objectively about the conflict between the Sandinistas and Samoza's forces in Nicaragua, and he fails. Then he tries to merely ACT objectively, and he fails at that too. And yet the movie, and the revolution it depicts, turns on the one true photo Nolte is able to take, of the shooting death of his friend Hackman by the National Guard, which Samoza has been blaming on the Sandinistas. The rebels win.
The movie's pedantic, of course, but not as insulting as it might be. Not as insulting as, say, Costa-Gavras' "Missing," which assumes that Americans are stereotypical right-wing dummies who need to be patiently instructed in how corrupt our policies are, like a class of kindergarten kids. Okay, we're dumb -- but not THAT dumb. "Under Fire" doesn't show us any good guys on Samoza's side, but it also mutes the sentimentality with which the rebels are treated. We see some of them as scared and excited kids wielding guns and killing people for no discernible reason. Another woman tells the dead Hackman's ex girl friend, "Fifty thousand Nicaraguans have died. Now they kill one American and the world is outraged. Maybe we should have killed an American fifty years ago." (I give the writers the benefit of the doubt and assume they never meant to advance that as an reasonable position.)
Yet the rebels ARE treated rather gently. One young man, finding that Nolte and Cassidy are Americans, eagerly signs a baseball and tells them that when they get back to the USA they should give the ball to Dennis Martinez, whom I take to be a pro ball player. This kid, Pedro I think he's called, shows us the jolly side of revolution. He's the equivalent of those kids in the old war movies who learn to speak a choppy English with a lot of slang in it.
And who do we have on the other side? Samoza himself, another "brutal dictator" of the sort we've lately taken to deposing. We can tell he's nasty because he barks at his subordinates, exudes an oily charm with foreigners, and has an eye for the ladies. Trintignant has an eye for the ladies too. He has been an extraordinary actor in some roles (eg., "The Conformist"), his presence suggesting a kind of earnest weakness, but here his moral nihilist is hampered by his English. It's understandable that he should feel that whichever side wins, you still end up with a tyrant, but it's hard to believe he feels it. And then we have Richard Masur as an American-appointed Talking Chief for Samoza. He gives Nicaragua two options: Either Samoza wins with American help, solves the problem of poverty, and turns Nicaragua into a democracy, or the Communists take over the world. When the news comes out that Hackman has been killed, Masur runs into Cassidy, smiles, spreads his arms helplessly, and tells her, "A human tragedy. What can I say?" Then there is Ed Harris as the American mercenary, cheerfully slaughtering the rebels he's being paid to kill, thick skinned, just as pleased when the Sandinistas win as he was before.
The film makers don't exactly give us a level playing field, but then how could they without seeming ridiculous? Samoza, after all, was a pretty nasty guy. (Somebody finally caught up with him after he found refuge in Florida, as I recall.)
The acting is good, all around, as is the photography and location shooting.
What a dismal and dangerous place. And journalists have to prowl these streets for a living. Even a cover on Time Magazine wouldn't get me to drive around the rubble filled streets of Managua. Or even Newark, New Jersey, for that matter. Excellent use is made of Jerry Goldsmith's score. It's introduced after some time, done softly, a tune suggestive of Inca music, using wooden flutes and guitar. The theme becomes more fully orchestrated later, more dramatic and insistent. It's always associated with the rebels and at the end, when the rebels roll through the streets, it does everything but turn into the 1812 Overture.
This is for adults. Most of the characters are more real than stereotypical. Look at Joanna Cassidy. She's not a glossy Penthouse centerfold. She's a grown-up with an adult daughter and thoughtful blue eyes. And although we naturally want the Sandinistas to win, we have to wonder if Nolte did the right thing in falsely boosting the morale of the guerillas. By cheating and by taking sides, he's weakened the privileged status of journalists everywhere.
It's a thought-provoking movie, and full of action. Well done.
Blaine3 compares Under Fire somewhat unfavorably with Oliver Stone's Salvador because Under Fire is fiction and Salvador is based on a real reporter's experience. I hope that doesn't deter you from renting this one, or lead you to think that Under Fire is excessively unrealistic or melodramatic. One of the climactic events in Under Fire, the murder of a top American reporter, was based on the murder in 1979 of ABC News correspondent Bill Stewart, who was shot to death in Managua, Nicaragua, by a member of President Anastasio Somoza's national guard. The whole event was caught on videotape by other American reporters and aired in the U.S.
In any event, Stone is quite well known for shading and bending historical facts in the interest of telling a good story from his point of view. In that sense, I doubt Salvador is any more "real" than Under Fire.
One of the things I appreciate most about Under Fire is that it created a great role, that of a glamorous yet competent professional woman, a mother, working in a dangerous place, and gave it to an actress over the age of 35 (much rarer 22 years ago than it is now). Joanna Cassidy did a great job with it.
"Under Fire" is a film well worth seeing. The main reason I saw it was because I heard good things about Jerry Goldsmith's score for the film, but the cast and subject matter are also good reasons for checking out this film. Especially Nick Nolte, who delivers a really good performance as Russell Price, the photographer who slowly loses his objectivity and becomes more and more involved with the civil war in Nicaragua. He and Claire (Joanne Cassidy) go on a search for rebel leader Rafael (rumored to be dead) and it's during this search they get more and more involved with the war. Russell is asked to photograph the dead Rafael as if he's alive so that the rebels can continue their revolution with a continuing flow of supplies. This means breaking with his objectivity though, but following his heart and feelings. Later on he also discovers that the photographs he has taken (to show the world what's going on in Nicaragua) are being used against the rebels, whom he chose to help. His journalist friend Alex (played by Hackman) joins in again, because he wants an interview with Rafael, not knowing he's already dead. This part of the story is really good. There are lots of emotions and the feeling is real. You feel for Russell for getting more and more involved and his motivation for the choice he made is well exposed and feels true. Based on what you see, you would've made the same decision. This is greatly due to the fact that you're really placed inside the action, so to speak. You witness what Russell and Claire are witnessing and Russell, being a photographer, has to be right where the action is. We witness all sorts of things (also involving Ed Harris as a mercenary for the government) and through the culmination of these events you get really involved in Russell and Claire's journey and their decisions.
There's another part to the story though. Claire and Alex are partners in the beginning of the film, but Claire breaks up, only to fall in love with Russell during their journey. This part isn't exactly a good addition to the story, since it's distracting from the general story and it's inconsequential to what's going on. Besides that, when Russell tells Alex about him loving his (ex-)girlfriend and her loving him, there's no real tension between them. For this side story to work better, it should have been expanded. That wouldn't have been a good idea either, because then it would have been even more distracting from the central story and the emotional core of the film. The best thing, in my opinion, was to leave it out. In the ending it also leaves us with a bit of a corny moment, which doesn't make it better. Luckily these parts aren't too distracting and they don't disrupt the flow of the film too much.
Another criticism is that I found the first half hour of the film to be quite boring. I think this is mostly due to the fact that nothing really happens and I somehow didn't really care for the few things happening to the main characters in this first half hour. We start to care when the action and the journey begin though. So, the first half hour is short on emotion and thus becomes somewhat boring. The film also has some political things to say, but only in one situation does this become preachy. A nurse tells Claire that 50,000 civilians died, but that the death of one American journalist made the American government give the rebels support. This exchange wasn't really necessary and came a bit out of nowhere, which causes it to come across preachy. Other political exchanges (mostly involving Jean-Louis Trintignant) aren't like this and feel in accordance with the overall film. I already named the score, but I can now judge for myself. It indeed is a really good score by the great Jerry Goldsmith. It brings out the emotions and makes you really involved with the film. Besides that, it adds a great atmosphere and fits the film like a glove. One last remark needs to go to the acting, which was generally good. Nick Nolte stood out as the best, but Joanne Cassidy was quite good besides him. Gene Hackman didn't have much to do to be honest, but he delivered what he had to and he made his character believable.
All in all this is a really nice film to watch. It's mostly involving and the emotional journey Russell and Claire make is really nice to follow. Besides a few down sides, like an unnecessary love story, this film holds up really well. Watch this if you have two hours to spent and want something with some depth to it.
I rate it 7/10.
Seems like Nick Nolte had practised this and it looked like second nature to him in the movie. Very Very 'cool stuff'. Dramatic atmosphere real life characters tension and lots of used film cannisters. Brilliantly cast Gene Hackman as the 'wordsmith' Well filmed action sequences and tightly scripted scenes Ed Harris well cast as mercenary(I've met a few) Praise to Roger Spottiswood for getting it absolutely right.
My plot summary of this feels a little false - it makes it sound like a romantic drama rather than a political drama. However it's closer to that than it is to being a look at the conflict in Nicaragua. The story made me think it would be a look at the conflict, but rather this is a look at the conflict through the eyes of foreigners including CIA and journalists. It's still interesting - but would have been better looking at it from the rebel's point of view - but then I guess the American audience wouldn't have been interested. The focus on the US stars makes this a drama with the war as a backdrop, this takes away from the impact of the conflict onscreen.
One of the last scenes of the films has an elderly lady talking to Claire following the death of an American journalist at the hands of the Government. Due to this death the USA has thrown their support behind the rebels and the Government has fallen. The lady essentially says that "50,000 Nicaraguans have died but it took only one American death to convince the US of the true nature of the Government here - we should have killed one a long time ago" (rough quote!). This is a good point, made in criticism of the USA's foreign policy and how they value lives of different nationalities. However this criticism can also be levelled at the film itself - it focuses on the Americans more than the Nicaraguans, the American characters are more important than the Nicaraguan characters - you can't have it both ways, you can't criticise someone else for something you're guilty of. The story is still interesting but it's so USA focused that it almost forgets the main players in the story (the rebels & the Government) and relegates them to bit parts.
Nolte is good in the lead, but I thought Joanna Cassidy was a bit outclassed by the rest of the cast. Hackman is good as always but had very little to do. Ed Harris is good, but again his character was the only soldier really given a character or a story (and of course, he's an American mercenary).
Overall an interesting story but the main point of the film (as voiced by the elderly lady) is also a criticism of the film itself. I wanted to know more about the conflict but instead knew more about the love triangle - a political drama that manages to cheapen the very political war that it sought to highlight.
* patiently and honestly portrays how revolutions typically evolve into open violence.
* has an unusually intelligent script and story line.
* has an exceptionally talented set of actors and actresses who consistently give us excellent portraits of the major characters.
We are told how a fictional set of journalists and mercenaries join on both sides of the civil war in Nicaragua in the late 1970's, when the corrupt Somoza regime was overthrown by left-wing revolutionaries. I was always convinced, and certainly never bored, in seeing what they did and in learning about their motivations.
I was especially impressed with the sights and sounds of battle. This was not your typical Hollywood "boom-boom" flick with all the sound systems turned up. A retired army veteran who survived combat in Vietnam told me that the battle scenes in "Under Fire" were most convincing. The shots and explosions were not at all deafening, and he would realize that his life was in danger only when he would suddenly hear the muted crackling of semi-automatic weapons and whistling of bullets, and then see people starting to drop...just as in the film.
At the end, we learn only gradually that victory is in sight for the revolutionaries. Little by little the government troops fade away. Then Somoza gets onto his airplane and flees into exile. There's no huge swelling of inspirational music. People gradually come out onto the streets to resume their lives, and they watch a little victory parade by the revolutionaries. This is how it really happens....a most convincing portrait.
Some may argue that this story is hopelessly dated. The leftists are gone, they tell us, and we are at "the end of history".
Really? Just wait and see what happens in Nepal, where the Maoist Liberation Front is more than holding its own against the dictatorial monarchy there. These are Marxists, not Moslem fanatics. We might not have yet seen the last of the old-fashioned leftists.
The "popular" view by most filmmakers and "news people" of the time, viewed President Somoza as an evil man. What was thought to be a "saving Grace" for Nicaragua was a new Government.
What everyone there GOT was a Socialist/Communist takeover fueled by the Left and (then) President- Jimmy Carter, who even blackmailed Israel into not helping the Contras and President Somoza.
I always fume when I see "stories' of people and places written by people who were NEVER THERE. I WAS THERE. I SAW it FIRST HAND.
President Somoza wasn't perfect. No one IS. But what they got was FAR WORSE.
Nicaragua has been in my Family since 1928, when my Father and the U.S. Marines went there to help prevent Augusto Sandino from taking the country. My Association with my beloved Nicaragua ended in 1995.
Under Fire is partly a fictionalised account of the story of Bill Stewart, an ABC News reporter gunned down by the Nicaraguan Army patrol at a road checkpoint. A cameraman filmed the execution and the footage caused a scandal back in the USA. The movie doesn't hide the irony that the life of one American journalist did more to turn public reaction against the government's support of the dictatorship than the lives of thousands of Nicaraguans. Like a Nicaraguan female doctor treating civilians says, "maybe we should have killed an American journalist 50 years ago." One can see why on its release the movie was accused, unfairly I think, of being Anti-American.
The movie follows the photojournalist Russell Price (Nick Nolte), who trots around the globe, from war to war, taking pictures. We first meet him in Chad, risking his life to take photos of the rebels. With the way he puts himself in danger to get good photos we learn three things about him: he's fearless, he's a committed professional and he's been doing this a long time. It's also in Chad that the movie sets up a running theme throughout the movie: the uncomfortable comparison between journalists and mercenaries. In a darkly funny scene Price meets an old friend, Oates (Ed Harris), inside a truck full of rebels. Oates is a mercenary and thinks he's with the government troops. Price corrects him: he's in fact sitting next to rebels. Oates doesn't worry because the rebels only speak French. Oates also trots around the glob from war to war; like Price, he feeds on conflict. Neither takes sides; Oates does, of course, but only for monetary reasons; he doesn't really care about politics. And Price tries to remain impartial. It's obvious they've known each other for a long time. It's inevitable that their paths will cross in Nicaragua.
In Nicaragua Price starts questioning his impartiality. "I think I finally saw one too many bodies," he says. As Price starts embracing the cause of the Sandinistas, the group opposed to Somoza's dictatorship, the movie becomes an interesting study of journalistic ethics, of information manipulation, and of the creation of myths to rouse people. To what extent is what we see reported the truth and not fabrications? How noble is it to fool people for a good cause? More than just agitprop, this movie opens up essential questions that any healthy democracy should regularly pose. Propaganda works both ways, of course, and the movie, quite pioneering, doesn't ignore the role PR companies play in whitewashing the criminal images of dictatorships.
The movie is also a love triangle between Price, Alex Grazier (Gene Hackman) and Claire (Joanna Cassidy), both journalists too. Although I tend to dislike love stories in such movies because they always seem like tactics to keep people interested, as if politics weren't interesting enough, here the love relationships are quite subtle and understated, I'd even say adult. There isn't an overflow of sentimentality or an exhibition of romantic excesses or tropes. And the romance stays in the background of the political story.
I can't find faults in any of the actors. Nolte is particularly enjoyable, with his gruff, rugged personality that slowly opens up to new ideas and feelings as he becomes involved with the Sandinistas. I had never seen Joanna Cassidy in a movie before, but I wonder why she isn't a better known start; she carried a lot of the movie herself. Hackman, who has a smaller role, was also solid. Harris was simultaneously funny and chilling. But of the actors in the minor roles Jean-Louis Trintignant stood out as the sensual French CIA agent, who hides his viciousness under a veneer of politeness and joie de vivre.
In terms of technique, I'd place this movie on the same level as Costa-Gavras' better known Missing. Roger Spottiswoode creates some intense scenes of urban warfare and he makes palpable the atmosphere of fear and anticipation as the war leaves the countryside and approaches Managua, the capital. Particularly effective are the empty streets, punctuated by army checkpoints, as well as the unexpected, farway bullet noises in the distance, giving the impression that there's a whole lot of things going on outside the frame of the camera. Spottiswoode had the good luck of working with director of photography John Alcott (his credits include A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and The Shining). Each scene is framed in an interesting way. As an example, in the opening sequence rebels emerge from a deceptively desolate clearing. It's a neat trick.
As important as Alcott's cinematography is Jerry Goldsmith's musical score. A chameleon of film music, Goldsmith could adjust his talent to suit any style, genre or mood. In here it makes extensive use of ethnic music and guitar by Jazz player Pat Metheny. The music contributes a lot to creating an exciting, suspenseful ambient and has become more famous than the movie itself.
The movie is bloody and violent, and the violence is quite realistic, unexpected and brutal. Although the movie has a streak of dark humour, it never trivialises the violence itself. According to Spottiswoode, the studio produced the movie knowing that it'd be a commercial failure. They made the movie because they believed the story was worth telling. Thought-provoking and sometimes unpleasant, I think this is an under-appreciated gem that will hold the interest of anyone willing to give it a chance.
Standing out, and probably the best role she has ever played and certainly the most comprehensive, not just a bit part: Joanna Cassidy ("Claire" - Bladerunner, The 4th Protocol, Ghosts of Mars ), is magnificent here, a woman showing great talent- being split between Husband Alex Grazier (Gene Hackman) and Photographer Russel Price (Nick Nolte) and she is torn between the two throughout the whole film. With other greats mixed in, Ed Harris as the Mercenary-for-Hire "Oates" who really has no idea who is hiring him as shown in the prelude- in Chad under hire from revolutionaries there- Hires himself out to the Somoza government as the film shifts to Nicaragua- And in contrast to Nolte's character, has no sense of right or wrong, just who is paying him.
This film follows Price, first in Africa, then Nicaragua, who at first is looking for good photographs to tell the story of what is happening in that part of the world. As he continues, first he is accosted by Somoza Military as "Taking Too Many Photographs" and later finds his way to the camp of the revolutionary leader "Rafael" - At one point laying down his camera after a boy he takes a liking to is killed and picking up a machine gun. Jean-Louis Trintignant (Jazy) is the "Spy" and we eventually find out what his agenda is, perhaps his character does not even know- Is he helping Price and Claire or is he using them to find "Rafael" (Jorge Zepeda - "Collateral Damage" and "The Arrival")? This film is compelling enough to make you want to find out. Jack Palance Daughter Holly also makes an appearance as a journalist. Some very distinguished Latin American Actors are used, most recognizable is Jenny Gago.
Filmed in Chiapas, Mexico, makes a convincing Managua, Nicaragua (And other Nicaraguan Cities)- The story is gripping and once engaged, is difficult for the viewer to walk away, this is one of those films which brings the viewer right into the story rapidly. Probably Spottiswoode's best effort. Does not use gratuitous violence, car chases, explosions although those are in the story but only as viable parts of the story line.
He meets a mercenary (Ed Harris) in the process who's on the militia's side and sees him kill one of the revolutionaries Nolte's befriended. This guy could've easily been the next Cy Young stateside by the way he was able to accurately throw a grenade at Ed Harris and some of his militia-men attacking them from a bell tower. Ed Harris survives the blast and snipes him back with a vengeance when it's least expected.
Well, no more juicy details but basically the war shifts into the 5th gear and Nolte's in the middle of it and discovers something really profound. Eventually he captures a moment in history and changes the tide of war by his excellent work, while risking life.
He should've earned a medal of honor right there and then for that, if they do that type of stuff.
Anyways, this one is definitely worth checking out. I caught it on HBO at like 4 in the morning and had to stay up to finish watching it. It was just so captivating.
Gene Hackman, Nick Nolte, and Joanna Cassidy are all good in their respective roles in journalism as a television broadcaster, a photographer, and a radio journalist. But the love triangle clouds the good work done in recreating the overthrow of Somoza.
The film was shot in a gritty, realistic style, enhanced by the still photographs taken by Nolte's character Russell. Indeed, the photographer is coerced into forging a photograph that, when published, gives the impression that the leader of the rebels is still alive, when in fact Russell photographed a dead man.
Two other essential characters are the nefarious fixer played named Marcel Jazzy, who strives to keep Somoza in power, and Ed Harris's character of Oates, a CIA mercenary, who is instrumental in counter-revolutionary tactics.
While the film closes on a stirring parade of the victorious rebels, the final, memorable note is the curious presence of Oates on the scene, who vows to show up in Thailand as his next stop in covert ops.
This was one of the finest films of the 1980s to expose the interference of the American government in Latin American affairs, and the meddling would continue later in the decade with the Iran-Contra affair, with illegal government actions that superseded Watergate in terms of felonious actions.
The story itself is well-woven into the larger political backdrop, no easy accomplishment. At first, the three American journalists take their new Nicaragua assignment as just another war to cover and maybe a chance to win a few more awards. Russell (Nolte), in particular, can't seem to get beyond his camera shutter. To him, the human drama unfolding might be on a planet far away, while he snaps one frame after another. But then he is a journalist, with a set of professional ethics. If he takes sides in any dispute, then his work can no longer be trusted. Same for print journalist Alex (Hackman) and interviewer Claire (Cassidy). So the conflict between natural empathy for the downtrodden and oath to the profession sets up the basic conflict. Russell, in particular, is pinned on the horns of the conflict when rebels ask him to fake a photograph of their iconic leader, Rafael. I needn't reveal how the conflict plays out, except, crucially, it does resolve in a credible manner.
The acting is also first-rate. Too bad the three principals were passed over for Oscar nominations. In my little book, Nolte particularly shines in an understated role that could easily have gone over the top. And happily Cassidy's Claire avoids any hint of glamor, yet still manages a magnetic presence. At the same time Hackman has perhaps the most difficult role. His Alex must waver between friendship with Russell and attraction to Claire, while having to choose which political side he's on. Nonetheless, he brings them off persuasively. Still, I certainly don't envy Harris' thankless role as the unscrupulous opportunist, Oates. Apparently he thinks just being an American in a Third World country excuses everything.
Note in passing, the aerial leaflet drop, the only way, I suppose, the rebels have of mass communication since the government controls the media. And shouldn't overlook the two vintage rattletraps our journalists are stuck riding in. The tin jalopies get shot, cannonaded, slammed, and still they roll over debris strewn streets like real troupers. So, hats off to Detroit's finest!
Anyway, the movie's an expertly produced thriller of some depth. Too bad it's drifted into relative obscurity now that the political fires have lessened over time. One thing for sureI'll bet Spottiswoode's film never screened in Reagan's White House.
Ultimately, this is a movie that rests on its three central characters (and the solid casting choices thereof). They do a great job conveying the cynicism of news people who deal in this bloodshed for a living.
All three lead as well as Ed Harris are near perfect. I love the war reporter club scene and the irreverent comradery. The murky world and the easy brutality are well presented. The locations are terrific and realistic. It's well made with great acting.