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Nightbreaker (1989)

Unrated | | Drama | TV Movie 8 March 1989
Dr. Alexander Brown (Martin Sheen) arrives in Las Vegas, awarded for his recent medical invention. An ex-G.I. tells Brown he was a test subject during the 1950's, exposed to atomic bomb ... See full summary »



(story "Atomic Soldiers"),
2 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Dr. Alexander Brown - Present
Dr. Alexander Brown - Past
Sally Matthews
Paula Brown
Sgt. Jack Russell
Dr. Roscoe Cummings
Barney Immerman
Lance Slaughter ...
Leonard Post ...
Dick Nebrun
Col. William Devereaux
Dr. Hatch
Dan Cutler
Gerry Black ...
Vet #1


Dr. Alexander Brown (Martin Sheen) arrives in Las Vegas, awarded for his recent medical invention. An ex-G.I. tells Brown he was a test subject during the 1950's, exposed to atomic bomb radiation in the Nevada desert-- will Brown help the man uncover the truth? In 1950's Nevada, Brown (played by Emilio Estevez) is a young psychiatrist and a guest of the U.S. Army, where soldiers were routinely exposed to excessive radiation. The young Brown and a colleague interview soldiers, who show their ignorance and insouciance in the face of this danger. The movie intercuts scenes between the young Alexander Brown and older Alexander Brown, some thirty years after the nuclear tests. Will the decorated psychiatrist finally speak out on the atrocity he witnessed? Written by veloc <velo_00@yahoo.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


How Close Can You Get To Hell?




Unrated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

8 March 1989 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Advance to Ground Zero  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Referenced in There's Nothing Out There (1991) See more »

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User Reviews

One spooky movie.
4 May 2004 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

Scarier than cannibalistic zombies or mutant rats, this is a fictional story built around a real incident.

In the early years of the atomic age, Emilio Estevez is a scientist working for the Atomic Energy Commission and is involved in testing bombs in Nevada. We don't hear much about it, but man were those tests badly bungled. These were above-ground tests of dirty devices. Sheen and some airborn troops are exposed to the blasts, first from far away, then closer. The last one is too close. We don't know it until we see the trucks delivering the troops to their positions. The men are hustled off and the trucks zoom away in a cloud of dust. The dugouts to have been provided for the men are not there. One of them looks up at the tower. In previous tests we've seen the tower as no more than a spike on the distant desert horizon. This time the monster is close enough to make out details of its structure. "Wow," says the soldier, "What's the range on THAT one?" No answer is forthcoming. Later we learn the records show the distance as twenty miles, about nineteen miles extra thrown in to cover someone's behind.

In the early tests a lot of colorful footage was shot of our brave soldiers emerging from their trenches and marching towards the demonic cauliflower cloud. It's hard to imagine why they were there in the first place except to inoculate the public to the idea of atomic war. See them walk into the dust? They're as safe as in their mother's arms. Nothing to be afraid of. I once asked a professor of chemistry who was familiar with the outlines of the testing program whether the authorities realized the danger they were putting the troops in, and he replied, "They knew." The movie doesn't mention it, but the troops weren't the only people put at risk. The detonations raised clouds of pretty tangerine dirt that drifted across the sky over southern Utah, bringing many of the resident of St. George out to view the colorful sunsets and breathe the fallout, with the expectable results.

The drama is relatively low key, especially for a TV movie, far less flamboyant than, say, "Fat Man and Little Boy." The most touching scene in the movie, probably, is when a handful of soldiers are invited to a party given by some young women. But when they return from one of the tests, they are denied entrance to the party because they may have been irradiated and might be dangerous to be around. Nobody goes into fits of screaming anger. It's not that kind of story. All we have is a rather long shot of the disappointed men standing wordlessly at parade rest outside the screen door.

The photography is particularly good. Most of the outdoor scenes are tinted a jaundiced yellow, as if already poisoned. The colors are all earth tones, but not depressing in themselves. And the desert is not ominous in any way.

The earth is not sentient or smart, except that part of it that we humans represent.

The film has no zombies or man-eating fish, but it's scarier than you might imagine. The most frightening thing about it is not the vastness of the desert, nor even the bomb itself, but rather the minds that put the bomb where it is, and the troops where they were, and then decided the bomb should explode. What were those minds thinking? We've never had an explanation and the movie gives us none. It's unlikely that we'll find out whether it was by accident or design that these lives were ruined.

PS: I just viewed this again for the first time since its release and expected to find the message overstated this time, but was wrong. Now that I'm more mature and a little more familiar with death in its more prosaic forms I find the movie more powerful than ever. It took courage to make it.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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