In 1979, Russell Price (Nick Nolte) is a war photographer who travels the world seeking out the most dangerous locations and taking photographs to record what often are atrocities, all with the compulsion to bring the reality of the conflicts to the readers of the news outlets he services. At the moment, he is in Chad, where he is covering the civil war, but as he does so, out with a rebel convoy, he meets an old friend, the mercenary Oates (Ed Harris), who alerts him that the real story as far as he is concerned is the one in Central America, where the regime in Nicaragua that has been propped up by the Americans is looking perilously close to toppling. Price books his ticket pronto...
Seeing as how journalists are the ones who bring the events around the globe to audiences away from various flashpoints, it is unsurprising that in the eighties, when political consciousness was being raised, especially among the left, Hollywood began to reflect this (and not merely Hollywood, either). What these films did was take loose representations of actual occurrences and fictionalise them to make them more palatable for a general audience - there were signs here that director Roger Spottiswoode was as much inspired by classic war cinema like Casablanca as he was by the torn from the headlines material, as a love triangle was added for more substance.
You may be pondering, how much more substance does this need to have, but the American market wanted an "in" to the accounts, and the easiest method of that was to give the majority of scenes and lines to Americans. This had played out similarly in Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously as well, a close contemporary of Under Fire which asked OK, we know a population of non-white citizens are under threat, but what of the handful of white people who have found themselves involved, be that voluntarily or accidentally? The message here was more that nobody gets in it up to their neck without some desire to be there in the first place, and that was true of Price.
Not only Price, either, but the difference between Spottiswoode's endeavours and Weir's were that Under Fire fully acknowledged what they were up to and went as far as having a character or two voice this curious state of affairs. Nobody from the main trio of characters, but we were made aware that if there was not a hypocrisy to this kind of misery tourism translated to silver screen entertainment, then at least there was a touch of uneasy social hierarchy where we are more saddened by the death of someone played by an America movie star than any of the local Nicaraguans we see gunned down or blown up. What these pictures shared was a vivid sense of place, so you could imagine the desperation on display and the spread of danger was authentic, though not many of this genre visited actual hotspots to film.
Backing up Nolte were a trio of intriguing presences, who helped lift this above its holidays in Hell trappings: Gene Hackman was another journalist who is in that love triangle with Joanna Cassidy, also a scribe, and Harris appeared intermittently over the course of the film to cause trouble and deliver wry commentary as one of the most blatantly mercenary of the main players. Probably thanks to him being an actual mercenary. In addition, Jean-Louis Trintignant was a C.I.A. man who happens to be French, sort of the Claude Rains stand-in, though the attempts at manufacturing a political drama out of then-current events was not wholly successful when there was probably too much for one two hour film to take in without turning into a lecture. Nevertheless, performances were strong even in the bit parts, and it did ring true as far as what it displayed went, though as ever with Central America, there were many an opinion about what was actually going on; corruption was rife, that was all you could discern, and each side were as bloodthirsty as the other when it came to gaining the upper hand. Music by Jerry Goldsmith (a real bonus here).
[Eureka have released this on Blu-ray with the following features:
Stunning 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio
Optional English SDH subtitles
Audio Commentary with director Roger Spottiswoode, Assistant Editor Paul Seydor and Photo-Journalist Matthew Naythons, and Film Historian Nick Redman
Audio Commentary with Music Mixer-Producer Bruce Botnick, Music Editor Kenny Hal and Film Historians Jeff Bond, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman
Joanna Cassidy Remembers Under Fire [3 mins]
Original Theatrical Trailer
Limited Edition Collector's booklet featuring new writing by author Scott Harrison [2000 copies only].]