Under Fire (1983)
A film following in the tradition of the “political thriller” genre, Under Fire tells the story of three American journalists who venture to Nicaragua at the height of the turmoil brewing between the dictator Anastasio Somoza and the revolutionary Sandinista rebels. Quite graphic in its presentation of combat and guerilla campsites, this film offers the audience a great deal of visual excitement as well as a bit of romance in the story line. The story of this movie is one that triggers much debate and controversy. In order for the revolutionaries to topple the Somoza regime, they must convince the world that their dead charismatic leader Rafael is really alive and well. Russ, a freelance photographer played by actor Nick Nolte, is approached by the Sandinistas who wish to utilize his adept camera skills to shoot a picture of Rafael. The intent of this proposition is simple: make it look as if Rafael is still alive. That way, people will believe that the revolution is still strong and support will not waver. Russ agrees to do so and from that point on, everything that could possibly go wrong, does. Under Fire raises the interesting concept of journalistic integrity and illustrates how easily it can be compromised when one’s emotions cloud the ability to think rationally and impartially. The belief in a cause and a fight is so great that the focus of the journalist’s story quickly becomes his own personal struggle. The similarities between Under Fire and Missing are in the basic elements; American journalists in a Latin American country during political upheaval, adopting a political stance in opposition to dangerous forces, United States involvement, and the subsequent death of a main character. Under Fire is one film in the unique category of political drama that is often overlooked. However, when it receives attention from reviewers, it inevitably meets with much criticism.
Salvador is a film about the experiences of American journalists during their course of covering the brutal civil war in El Salvador during the early 1980s. When it becomes evident that the chaos in Central America is mounting, photographer Richard Boyle, played by actor James Woods, convinces his friend Dr. Rock (James Belushi) to drive down to El Salvador in hopes of having some good times and maybe even taking some good photographs for sale. What they encounter is brutality and violence beyond anything they had imagined. Government-commissioned death squads mercilessly gun down demonstrators, while piles of corpses litter the streets. Four nuns are savagely raped and murdered and Archbishop Romero is assassinated, all while Boyle is forced to do some soul searching and reevaluate life, as he knows it. The sheer violence and the manner in which many scenes are depicted require that the audience muster up the courage to endure such a graphic and emotionally powerful film. The story seen in the movie is loosely based on the real life experiences of Richard Boyle, co-writer of the screenplay. His collaboration with Oliver Stone made bringing the memorable images to the big screen possible. The military presence seen in this film is reminiscent of the scenes depicted in Missing, where the Chilean people are terrorized on the streets by machine-gun toting soldiers and bullet-ridden bodies are scattered all about.
Eleni is based on the true story of a New York Times reporter on a crusade to find out the details surrounding the mysterious death of his mother. Sent to live with relatives in America after World War II, Nicholas Gage is forced to leave his mother behind in Greece. Though she promises to join him, he never again sees his mother alive. He receives the news that she has been killed by a firing squad and knows little else. Years later as an adult, Nicholas is unable to cope not knowing the details of his mother's death. Determined to find the answers, he arranges to go to Greece on assignment. Done through the creative use of a technique most effective on film, the mother’s story is told through flashbacks. Eleni, the mother, also serves as the narrator on the journey into the past to find out more about the woman for whom the film is named. Common to Eleni and Missing is the unnecessary death of an American journalist’s loved one in a country undergoing massive political transition. (Greece is a contrast from the South American countries depicted in other films of a similar theme.) One should note that Costa-Gavras, the director of Missing, is a native of Greece.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Terry Su, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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