Sidewinder’s View: “Under Fire” (1983) [Warning: SPOILERS]

underfireharrisFrom 1983, this morning’s movie. Haven’t seen it since I was a teen back in the mid-’80s. I remember little about the movie, except that Ed Harris plays a mercenary, or CIA spook, or both, who, at one point in the movie, snipes a young, affable Sandinista who throws hand grenades with incredible accuracy (because the kid’s a talented baseball player, after all), and that, after Harris takes him out, we’re supposed to feel bad about that because…well, my memory’s spotty on exactly why we’re supposed to feel bad about that, but…

Also, Nick Nolte plays a war correspondent who, naturally, sides with the Sandinistas in the conflict he’s objectively reporting on and fakes a photograph for propaganda purposes.

Plus, Joanna Cassidy plays another journalist who’s romantically involved with Nolte, but who’s also involved romantically, or used to be, with Nolte’s editor, played by Gene Hackman, who knows about Nolte and Cassidy and kind of resents it…

…and that Hackman later gets gunned down by wicked, U.S.-backed Nicaraguan soldiers during a traffic stop while Nolte photographs it at a distance. And it’s shocking. Simply shocking.

And…that’s about all I remember of the movie. I do remember enjoying it, for the same reason I had an interest in watching the movie to begin with: its cast of principal actors, specifically Nick Nolte. Great actor with a very compelling screen presence. I’d never seen him give a dull performance. I remember thinking, back then, that if the movie was worth his time, it had to be worth watching.

Well, anyway, let’s see how Under Fire holds up for me, over thirty years later.


The moral of the story? Self-righteous Marxism trumps journalistic integrity…but that’s a good thing. How timely.

One thing I’ve noticed about these Central American conflict pictures from the 1980s– they always downplay the Soviet influence in those wars, usually dismissing it early on in the story with a throwaway line of dialogue. Boy, if only the reality were so simple and, gosh, romantic.

Anyway, Under Fire, as a movie, was intermittently interesting, but, overall, a bit of a dry slog. Since I don’t share its creators’ political leanings, I’m not inclined to give its shortcomings a pass. The love triangle subplot isn’t engaging and the plot treads familiar, predictable ground. I don’t care what the fine folks at Twilight Time have to say about it, it’s just not that fantastic of a movie. Good intentions alone don’t cut it.

Another Twilight Time Blu-ray, Oliver Stone’s 1986 Salvador, released theatrically around two-and-a-half years after Under Fire, was a far better written, far more entertaining movie (even if I no longer share the political bias of its renowned co-writer/director). Nick Nolte was a great leading man, but he’s no James Woods. Just comparing the Oscar nods each film received ought to tell you everything you need to know (Under Fire for its Jerry Goldsmith score; Salvador for Woods’ performance and Stone’s co-written script).

I’m a longtime Jerry Goldsmith fan, with 43 of his film scores in my library, but, honestly, his score for Under Fire was a bit underwhelming. Not my cup of tea, really. Still…it is Jerry Goldsmith.

The performance of Ed Harris, however, still impressed me. I can watch him in almost anything. He’s supposed to be a bad guy in Under Fire, I think, but Harris is so charismatic and appealing that I couldn’t help but root for the guy, even after his character committed the unpardonable sin of offing the baseball-grenade-tossing Sandinista, thus raising the self-righteous Nolte’s ire. Boo-hoo.

Final takeaway? If you want your audience to root for the Commies, don’t cast Ed Harris as the guy who believes they ought to be wiped out. You’re gonna lose.Under Fire Review Image



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