Under Fire (1983)


Introduction

Under Fire is a 1983 American political thriller film set during the last days of the Nicaraguan Revolution that ended the Somoza regime in 1979.

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, it stars Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy.

Outline

Russell Price is a photojournalist covering a military conflict in Chad, where he runs into Oates, a mercenary who he knows. Russell then returns to his hotel, where he attends a “Bon Voyage” party for his friend Alex Grazier, who is giving up covering foreign conflicts to take a lucrative job as a news anchor in New York. It is revealed that Russell is having an affair with Alex’s girlfriend, fellow journalist Claire Stryder. Alex’s article about the conflict in Chad is paired with Russell’s photography to land a cover story in Time magazine.

The journalists then travel to Nicaragua to join the international press corps covering a conflict between the government of President Somoza and rebels lead by Rafael, an underground figure who has never been photographed. Russell is arrested for no legitimate reason and spends a night in jail. He and Claire meet Marcel Jazy, a French spy who is closely connected to Somoza, who tips them off that they might find Rafael in León, even though the press corps believes the fighting is shifting to Masaya.

They go to León and cover an intense rooftop gun battle between rebels and government troops. Russell meets rebels led by Pedro who gives him a baseball to take to Dennis Martinez. After more fighting, Russell again meets Oates, who is now fighting for the Nicaraguan government. Afterwards, Oates shoots Pedro in the back, killing him, but Russell does not reveal Oates’ location, in order to avoid picking a side in the conflict.

Claire and Russell attend a press conference where President Somoza announces that Rafael has been killed. They then meet rebels who promise to take them to meet Rafael. Lead to a remote rebel stronghold, they realise that Rafael is indeed dead, and the rebels ask Russell to fake a living photo of their leader, believing this will sustain the movement long enough to win a victory. Although conflicted, Claire and Russell agree to help the rebels.

The photo is a success, and Alex comes to Nicaragua to get Russell to arrange an interview with Rafael. Alex learns of Russell’s affair with his girlfriend, but does not sever his relationship with the photographer. The two go to find Rafael as the war escalates. They are detained and again meet Oates, who this time is with government troops who are conducting a mass execution. Russell learns from Oates that Jazy has been using him to get photographs of rebel leaders, who are then targeted for assassination.

Alex learns that Rafael is dead and Claire and Russell have violated journalistic ethics. Nevertheless, he agrees to not expose them, and will do a fluff piece on Jazy instead. Russell tries to arrange the interview, but fighting has become even more intense as the government is losing the war. Lost on their way back to the hotel, Alex asks government troops for assistance, but they are paranoid and execute him in the street while Russell takes pictures. Russell then escapes from the troops with the help of a local woman who hides him in her home.

Realising it will end his regime if it is revealed that government troops killed a famous American journalist, President Somoza reports that rebels killed Alex and troops desperately search for Russell to kill him and destroy the pictures. Russell witnesses rebels killing Jazy. Claire is able to get the negatives back to the hotel, then goes to find Russell.

Russell’s photographs are broadcast worldwide and Somoza flees to Miami. With the rebels victorious, Claire and Russell are reunited and leave the country. In the final scene, she asks “Do you think we fell in love with too much?”, and he replies “I’d do it again”.

Cast

  • Nick Nolte as Russell Price.
  • Gene Hackman as Alex Grazier.
  • Joanna Cassidy as Claire Stryder.
  • Ed Harris as Oates.
  • Jean-Louis Trintignant as Marcel Jazy.
  • Richard Masur as Hub Kittle.
  • René Enríquez as Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
  • Hamilton Camp as Regis.
  • Alma Martínez as Isela.
  • Eloy Casados as Pedro.
  • Jenny Gago as Miss Panama.
  • Jorge Zepeda as Rafael.

Release

Box Office

Under Fire opened 21 October 1983 in 816 theatres, earning $1,837,768 ($2,252 average per theatre) its opening weekend. The film went on to gross a total of $5,696,391 in North America.

Historical Basis

Though the film is largely fictional, it was inspired by the murder of ABC reporter Bill Stewart and his translator Juan Espinoza by Nicaraguan National Guard troops on 20 June 1979. ABC cameraman Jack Clark was shooting “incidental” footage, and caught the entire episode on tape. The footage was shown on national television in the US and became a major international incident, undermining what remained of dictator Anastasio Somoza’s support. The US Government had already stopped military aid to Nicaragua and its National Guard in 1978, but the incident was the final straw for the Carter Administration’s relationship with Somoza, whose regime fell on 19 July.

Trivia

  • For the 2012 film Django Unchained, director Quentin Tarantino used the musical cue “Nicaragua” from Jerry Goldsmith’s score during the arrival scene at the Candie Plantation known as Candyland.
  • Watching this movie inspired Reuters photo journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Yannis Behrakis to pursue a career in photo journalism.
  • This film was part of a cycle of pictures made during the 1980s that featured journalists covering war. The movies include Salvador (1986), Under Fire (1983), Circle of Deceit (1981), War Zone (1987), Cry Freedom (1987), The Killing Fields (1984) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).
  • Appearing in a role as a reporter was Holly Palance who was the spouse of the film’s director Roger Spottiswoode.
  • An article in the 19 October 1983 edition of the Los Angeles Times noted Orion Pictures marketed this film as a romantic thriller when its polling revealed that only 12% of respondents knew anything about Nicaragua or the revolution happening there.
  • The Mexican Army provided military equipment, vehicles, aircraft and as many as 75 soldiers per day to portray troops on each side of the conflict.
  • Originally to be set during the Vietnam War and was to be filmed in South Africa.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Roger Spottiswoode.
  • Producer(s):
    • Anna Roth … associate producer.
    • Jonathan T. Taplin … producer (as Jonathan Taplin) (produced by).
    • Edward Teets … executive producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • Ron Shelton … (screenplay by).
    • Clayton Frohman … (screenplay by).
    • Clayton Frohman … (story by).
  • Music:
    • Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Cinematography:
    • John Alcott … director of photography.
  • Editor(s):
    • Mark Conte.
  • Production:
    • Cinema ’84.
    • Lion’s Gate Films.
    • Under Fire Associates.
  • Distributor(s):
    • Orion Pictures (1983) (USA) (theatrical).
    • Stockholm Film (1983) (Sweden) (theatrical).
    • Laurenfilm (1984) (Spain) (theatrical).
    • Orion im Filmverlag (1984) (West Germany) (theatrical).
    • Rank Film Distributors (1984) (UK) (theatrical).
    • Roadshow Films (1984) (Australia) (theatrical).
    • Spentzos Films (1984) (Greece) (theatrical).
    • Union Générale Cinématographique (UGC) (1984) (France) (theatrical).
    • Rank Video (1984) (UK) (video).
    • Roadshow Home Video (1984) (Australia) (VHS).
    • VCL Communications (1984) (West Germany) (VHS).
    • Vestron Video (1984) (USA) (VHS).
    • Home Video Hellas (HVH) (1986) (Greece) (video).
    • La Cinq (1989) (France) (TV) (dubbed version).
    • Video Treasures (1989) (USA) (VHS).
    • Avid Home Entertainment (1992) (USA) (VHS).
    • GoodTimes Home Video (1995) (USA) (VHS).
    • HGV Video Productions (1995) (Canada) (VHS).
    • Sandrew Film (1998) (Sweden) (VHS).
    • MGM Home Entertainment (2003) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Studio S Entertainment (2010) (Sweden) (DVD).
    • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (2016) (World-wide) (all media).
    • Twilight Time (2014) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • Justbridge Entertainment (2018) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
    • Justbridge Entertainment (2018) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Compagnia di Distribuzione Europea (1984) (Italy) (theatrical).
    • Antenne 2 (A2) (1987) (France) (TV) (dubbed version).
    • Image Entertainment (USA) (video) (LaserDisc).
    • MGM Home Entertainment (all media).
    • Orion Home Video (USA) (video).
    • Roadshow Home Video (all media).
    • Starlight (West Germany) (VHS) (unknown).
  • Release Date: 07 and 12 July 1983 (sneak peek previews, US).
  • Running time: 128 minutes.
  • Rating: 15.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link(s)

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