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Under Fire

One of the best political dramas of the 80’s, UNDER FIRE boasts a great cast and an exciting story but was probably too topical and timely for audiences of the day, with whom it bombed at the box office.

Three journalists serve as the triangle that drive the film. Gene Hackman is reporter and wannabe-anchor Alex Grazier. He is in love with radio reporter Claire, well played by Joanna Cassidy (Blade Runner). Nick Nolte is photographer Russell Price.

As the film opens in 1979, the three are wrapping up a war in Africa and are heading to Nicaragua. The corrupt Somoza regime oozes wealth and power while the citizens starve for basics. When a popular revolution leader named Rafael emerges, the people become empowered and Somoza’s grip on the country begins to falter.

Grazier decides to return to the states, leaving Claire and Price behind in their chase to find Rafael. After they’re caught in several near-death situations, they fall in love.

The film does a great job juggling their relationships amid the explosive violence of a country on the edge. Director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) finds a near perfect balance of complicated politics, human drama and action. The scenes of guerillas versus the military feel more like documentary footage than a Hollywood film. Writer Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Tin Cup) keeps every word of dialogue authentic.

Ed Harris (The Abyss, The Rock) brings a maddeningly flexible sense of loyalty as a mercenary named Oates, who flips and flops with the political winds. Is he a CIA agent? It would appear so.

Knowing that our government supported the regime in power, then two revolutionary groups, you begin to understand that our national interests changed with the winds, as did our loyalties.

There are shocking moments of death and violence and heartbreaking loss. The casualties of war are palpable. Nolte is excellent and Hackman matches him. Conversations take place In beat up cars riddled with white flags and bullet holes. Every corner feels loaded with danger.

Jerry Goldsmith wrote a classic, Oscar nominated score that sneaks up on you like so many revolutions. Tarantino used chunks of the music in key scenes in “Django Unchained”.

Closely tied to the real-life events and death of ABC News reporter Bill Stewart, UNDER FIRE is powerful, fascinating and gets an A.

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