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April 15, 2015

Movie Review: Under Fire (1983)

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Nicaragua, 1979: The populace is under the iron-fisted rule of President Anastasio Somoza. Photographer Russell Price (Nick Nolte) is on the scene to capture scenes of the burgeoning civil war for the American mainstream media. It’s not all work and no play. Price has his eye on the gorgeous journalist Claire (Joanna Cassidy) who’s in the process of breaking up with the egotistical Alex Grazier (Gene Hackman), indifferent to the death and upheaval around him as he plots his career as a news anchor. The trio is pulled into the conflict when it becomes obvious that they can’t remain neutral to the fascistic forces of Somoza and the Sandinista rebels. Throwing their purported, professional objectivity into bold relief are the actions of cheerfully amoral mercenary soldier Oates (George Romero discovery Ed Harris), who guns down unarmed civilians for quick cash. Using his photographic skills to prolong the rebel’s efforts, Price and his friends face an even bigger quandary: Are they merely unseating the old boss, who in the words of The Who, “is same as the old boss?”

Under Fire is an Eighties classic that was released during the Reagan Administration’s heyday of meddling in South and Central American affairs over fears of the Soviet Union – go Google “Iran-Contra” for more on that subject. Having earned a good deal of my daily bread in news production, I can vouch that Under Fire’s depiction of journalists, both small and major is right on the money. Nolte plunges into the middle of gunfire and certain death with only his camera as a weapon. Later on in the film, both Nolte and Hackman troll the backstreets in a battered car that has nothing more than the words “Prensa” – Spanish for Press spelled out in tape as their sole protection.

The themes presented in Under Fire are deeply complex ones, which thankfully doesn’t come in the way of a good story. Many have likened the film to Casablanca, about a romantic threesome thrown into wartime. The main issue here, as Julie Kirgo points out in her liner notes to this Twilight Time release, is that there was little doubt that the Nazis were the “bad guys.” While the Somoza regime was doubtlessly evil and corrupt, there was enough evidence that the Sandinistas were no walk on the beach, either.

This shouldn’t put off people who suspect that the film is leftist propaganda. Under Fire is one of the 1980s greatest films, bolstered by the incandescent beauty of Stanley Kubrick cinematographer John Alcott. Filmed in Mex
ico, Hall’s camera captures all the poverty and violence but revels in the area’s earthy, beautiful colors. The legendary soundtrack composer also contributes one of his signature scores.

For this limited to 3,000-copy release, Twilight Time has an unusual plethora of extras. There is an isolated Score Track (with some effects); Audio Commentary with Director Roger Spottiswoode, Assistant Editor Paul Seydor, Photo-Journalist Matthew Naythons, and Film Historian Nick Redman. There is also an Audio Commentary with Music Mixer-Producer Bruce Botnick, Music Editor Kenny Hall, and Film Historians Jeff Bond, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman. There is a brief interview conducted by Code Red DVD’s Walter Olsen with actor Joanna Cassidy as she “Remembers ‘Under Fire.’” There are also excerpts from the Matthew Naythons Photo Archive and the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer.

Under Fire has spectacle, romance and drama as well as theoretical questions for the viewer to consider. Don’t miss your chance in scooping up this classic disc!

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