Under Fire (1983)

Under Fire (1983), directed by Roger Spottiswoode.

Journalists get pulled into the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. The scruffy, experienced cameraman is actually a political innocent, in way over his head. It does not occur to him that he is guided to the revolutionaries so that:


... he will snap many happy photos of them, which will then be stolen and turned over to death squads.

Conservatives have long complained that journalists (and film-makers) fall in love with left-revolutionaries and bias their reporting accordingly. Here we see it happening and the results are unfortunate. And yet Nick Nolte's character says "I'd do it all again", which shows questionable judgment given the body count.

I saw this back when and remembered nothing about it except that it was suggested by the real case of the murder of an American journalist caught on camera by his friends, adding as fiction their fabrication of other photo evidence, and that Ed Harris hit it big that year with this and The Right Stuff (1983). Here he is a mercenary, often funny but ultimately villainous and always on the wrong side.

My eye was also drawn to Elpidia Carrillo as one of the guerrilla fighters. She had a similar role in Predator (1987) and I see she was in another Central American civil war film of that time, Oliver Stone's Salvador (1986).

Fans think this is one of Jerry Goldsmith's finest scores. I'd have to listen to it as a soundtrack album before judging. Although he knew that panpipes were not native to Nicaragua, he wanted their percussive effect in the score anyway. Recording in London they couldn't find an actual instrument, so they taped one together from bits of pvc pipe.

Photographed by John Alcott, who did several films for Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980). They say his light meter was the back of his hand.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. Two commentary tracks: one about the film and the other about Jerry Goldsmith.

They all think this is a great film. I'd say it is a good, well-made one.