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Under Fire is a inspired and memorable political drama from 1983. Released just four years following the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979, the story centers upon a time of revolution and implements characters into the forefront of this serious time of political corruption and revolution from the people. The story remains just as timely to this day. Starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, Joanna Cassidy, and Ed Harris, Under Fire has a strong ensemble cast that helps the film far exceed its sometimes modest storytelling. In finding such a good balance in the casting, the filmmakers have brought the story to life in a entertaining and impressive way. Each actor brings a great flair to their role and helps to make the film be more compelling and memorable as a result.
Russell Price (Nick Nolte) is a popular American photographer who becomes intertwined in the ongoing revolution when he photographs a living leader of the corrupted government who had been believed dead by the people involved in the war. As the rebels and the soldiers wage war, Price becomes involved in the middle of the situation but has to fight to stay alive during the process. As the story unfolds, it also focuses on the creative partnership with Claire (Joanna Cassidy), whom he's in love with, and dealings with past collaborator Alex Grazier (Gene Hackman ), who also happens to be a third-link forming a love triangle between the three reporters working amidst the war. The photographs Price took cause problems for them, throwing everything for them into chaos as they struggle to stay alive while traversing - laboriously avoiding the soldiers who wish for them to be dead.
There are also soldiers systematically involved in the war with no care or political leaning like the cold-hearted Oates (Ed Harris), who they run into while he works against the people with little care of whose side is right as long as he can continue to collect his paycheck. In one of Under Fire's best sequences, Price confronts Oates after he helps with the killing of a large number of innocent citizens. The on-screen dynamic between Nolte and Harris electrifies.
One of the most remarkable things of the film is the Academy Award nominated score composed by acclaimed composer Jerry Goldsmith (Alien, Poltergeist). This is a remarkably bold composition which dramatically enhances the entirety of the film. It actually makes some scenes that would have otherwise felt out of place have a great sense of urgency and importance. The film's script was sometimes confusing (or even confused) as it traversed these characters across a large storytelling spectrum but the score is ambitious, memorable, and iconic and it enhances every aspect of the film's journey.
Featuring the cinematography of John Alcott (Barry Lyndon, 2001: A Space Odyssey), the presentation of the film also blends perfectly with the overall production. The film has an incredibly stark photography style which goes against the grain of typical glossiness seen throughout many Hollywood features. The setting thereby feels more naturalistic, authentic, beautiful, and noteworthy.
Director Roger Spottiswoode intelligently directs the script by Ron Shelton and Clayton Frohman (from a story by Frohman). While the revolution is mostly a backdrop of storytelling, Under Fire seems to spend more time in the script focused on the relationships between these characters, particularly the romance between Price and Claire. This makes it remain somewhat typical of a number of Hollywood productions but the acting and the fine direction strengthen the film and the experience. Spottiswoode has delivered a film containing excellent pacing and a multitude of noteworthy performances. Even with a somewhat spotty screenplay the film comes together as a impressive 1980's war drama (which was one of the earliest in what would be a string of similarly themed films during the 1980's, including Oliver Stone's Salvador). Under Fire is a compelling romantic drama with enough political intrigue to keep audiences engaged from beginning to end.
Under Fire arrives on Blu-ray (for the first time) with a generally pleasant MPEG-4 AVC 1080p High Definition presentation in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. Filmed by famed Stanley Kubrick collaborator (cinematographer John Alcott) the film has a impressive visual quality that takes flight in its high definition debut. While the film sometimes suggests a more natural color palette than most Hollywood productions, without quite as much colorful vibrancy as some might be expecting, this Blu-ray release seems to accurately reflect the PQ's stylistic flourishes intended as part of the visual aesthetic. Detail is sharp and impressive. The film's naturalistic design is fitting with the film's thematic content. The film print used also had little in the way of print marks or any actual damage. This is a stupendous presentation of the film, and it's hard to imagine fans walking away from the experience feeling disappointed by what Twilight Time has done with the release. This is another ace release from the company, which presents the film with an excellent 30 mbps bit-rate encode which allows for all of the details in the picture-quality to shine triumphantly.
Despite the film only having a modest 2.0 stereo audio presentation, the clarity and fluidity on this release's DTS-HD Master Audio is stunning. Dialogue is always clean, clear, and easy to understand and the film's triumphant score by the beloved composer Jerry Goldsmith sounds tremendous with this lossless encoding from start to finish (which is sure to please film score aficionados as this is one of Goldsmith's greatest score compositions in his oeuvre). Nothing disappoints in the audio spectrum with this fine quality 24 bit presentation.
Subtitles are presented in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing).
Score fans will be pleased to know that the release includes an Isolated Score Track (featuring some sound effects) highlighting the music of composer Jerry Goldsmith. The clarity of the music score on this edition is excellent. Unfortunately, it is a bit disappointing that there are sound effects underlining the music. It should still be worth a listen for those curious to hear Goldsmith's great score as the primary highlight.
An Audio Commentary with director Roger Spottiswoode, Assistant editor Paul Seydor, Photo Journalist Matthew Naythons, and Film Historian Nick Redman is included. In it, the group discusses some of the details of the filming of Under Fire, it's history as a film and how it explored the events of the Nicaraguan revolution. This is a dry and technical commentary but one worth a listen for those wanting to hear the film's creation, thematic material, and history discussed.
Audio Commentary with Music mixer-producer Bruce Botnick, Music editor Kenny Hall, and film historians Jeff Bond, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman is also provided on this release. The commentary is devoted entirely to discussing the legacy of composer Jerry Goldsmith and the score he composed for Under Fire. For Goldsmith fans, this commentary is certainly worth a listen to hear the group discuss his work and influence on the film (and filmmaking in general).
Joanna Cassidy Remembers "Under Fire" (3 min.) is a short but sweet interview with the actress, who fondly recalls the making of the film and its significance.
Excerpts from the Matthew Naythons Photo Archive showcases several of the production photos that were taken during the making of Under Fire. These are quality photographs which fans of Under Fire will appreciate getting to explore.
Lastly, the release includes the Original Theatrical Trailer and a printed Booklet with an essay about the film written by Julie Kirgo.
Under Fire is a surprisingly effective film which remains just as timely today as it did when it was first released. Featuring an array of great performances from Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy, Gene Hackman, and Ed Harris, Under Fire is an impressive effort from everyone involved in telling the story of the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979. Twilight Time's Blu-ray release is of exceptional quality and is a must own edition for fans of the film looking to have the best possible presentation.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.