Truth Under Fire
For a devastatingly relevant commentary on our current state of advocacy journalism in which uncovering the truth, presenting the truth and rewriting the unaccepted truth have become short-circuited in the media coverage of the approaching American Presidential election, one couldn’t find a more apt place to revisit than the battle-ravaged 1979 Nicaragua depicted in the war story-cum-romantic thriller Under Fire (1983), which opened in theaters 33 years today to faltering box office but subsequent esteem. Indeed, who could foresee that the formidable Nick Nolte, who plays Under Fire’s lead role of the roving, jaded photojournalist Russell Price, who has his consciousness raised and his life regularly threatened as he uncovers the unsavory connections to U.S. connections to the embattled, ruthlessly dictatorial Anastasio Somoza regime, would now be playing a disgraced former U.S. President seeking amends for the wrong turns of his administration in the new Epix comedy series Graves? In 1983, while simultaneously seen in moviehouses playing straight-arrow astronaut hero John Glenn in The Right Stuff, Ed Harris played Under Fire’s Oates, a shadowy special-forces sharpshooter frequently seen at encounters with rebel forces; in 2016, he’s the Man in Black of HBO’s new science-fiction series Westworld, playing a sadistically involved theme park guest who carves a brutal swath seeking of a deeper level of experience that can lead to the more diabolical truth of the core implications of Westworld’s technological wizardry for our species. Excavating facts in a war zone can become a life-or-death struggle, and Under Fire, directed by Roger Spottiswoode from a taut, well-developed screenplay by Clayton Frohman and Ron Shelton, portrays that scenario in riveting terms as both ideological treatise and Hollywood entertainment, as Chris Peachment’s Time Out Film Guide assessment reveals: “Riding to another Central American firefight come three journalists: reporter [Gene] Hackman, tired of Third World wars; Nolte, Hackman's colleague and obsessive lensman; [Joanna] Cassidy, a radio reporter shifting her affections from Hackman to Nolte. Spottiswoode constructs a true portrait of these people, with no part of their lives, personal, moral, or political, which is not deeply informed by journalism; everything they do is subsumed in the great quest for the major scoop. Cassidy gives us a generous, no-nonsense Hawksian woman; Nolte is superb, American cinema's nearest thing to a tiger and a true heir to Robert Mitchum. As an immediate picture of what it feels like to be under fire, the black fear of being shot for nothing in a rubble-strewn street, the movie is way ahead of earlier examples like Missing; indeed, it takes an honorable place alongside classic war-torn romance pictures like Casablanca and To Have and Have Not; and there are ways in which it exceeds them. A thrilling film, with a head, a heart and muscle.” Featuring a you-are-there group Audio Commentary with Spottiswoode, Assistant Editor Paul Seydor, Photo-Journalist Matthew Naythons, and TT’s Nick Redman, a Jerry Goldsmith music-score tribute Audio Commentary with Music Mixer-Producer Bruce Botnick, Music Editor Kenny Hall, and film historians Jeff Bond, Julie Kirgo and Redman, plus a Joanna Cassidy interview and excerpts from the Matthew Naythons Photo Archive chronicling the movie shoot and Naythons’ own Venezuelan conflict coverage, Twilight Time offers a truly dynamic presentation of Under Fire on hi-def Blu-ray.