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UNDER FIRE. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode; written by Ron Shelton and Clayton Frohman; produced by Jonathan Taplin for Orion. Starring Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy and Gene Hackman. Rated R (language, violence).


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If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the camera must be something like a sub-machine gun. This is the message of Under Fire.

It's an entertaining, if somewhat melodramatic, movie about journalists covering the Nicaraguan revolution.

The plot is pretty complicated. It includes a romantic triangle, a journey toward self-discovery, and a case study in journalistic ethics. Some of the sub-plots work better than others. Surprisingly, for a Hollywood product (although it was filmed in Mexico) it is the romance which falls a little flat.

Claire (Cassidy) is a print journalist with two men apparently nuts about her. But although she is attractive physically, she doesn't project enough personality to hold up her corner of the triangle.

Nolte's photojournalist Russell Price is at the center of the action, physically, psychologically and ethically. He comes to understand both the power of his photographs and the toll they take on his emotions.

This gradual, increasing self-realization is handled well in the movie. And even though Nolte isn't a great actor, he's appealing enough to make Price interesting and generally sympathetic.

Several of the supporting players do a good job, too. Jean-Louis Trintignant is a spy who is mysterious and candid, charming and repellant, all at the same time. Hackman is worth watching, as always, although he isn't given much to do.

The setting, in the midst of a civil war, and the multi-faceted story are the main reasons for seeing Under Fire. In many ways Nicaragua's war and politics are over-simplified and overly sentimentalized, but some striking images remain.

The scenes in which Claire and Russell walk through guerilla actions, camera and tape recorder clicking and whirring, are truly surreal. They think they're invisible and invulnerable, like Chief Dan George did during the massacre in Little Big Man.

If Under Fire is a realistic snapshot of how to do photojournalism, it is a strange profession indeed.

November 2, 1983

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