Picks and Pans Review: Under Fire

updated 10/31/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/31/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Nick Nolte is a photographer who takes pictures so reflexively he can hardly finish making love before he begins snapping artsy shots of his dozing lady. Gene Hackman is a TIME foreign correspondent who is being courted by a TV network in New York. Joanna (TV's Buffalo Bill) Cassidy is a freelance writer who is a terrific reporter, in addition to being the object of both men's affections. Years ago they would have made a vigorous, charming triangle, much as Clark Gable, Walter Pidgeon and Myrna Loy did in 1938's Too Hot to Handle. In this politically heavy-handed movie, though, the triangle is grim and tense. That's not to say the film lacks excitement. Cassidy's performance in the role of a lifetime is enough to keep up interest all by itself. She's bright, aggressive, funny, beautiful. Nolte is expressive in his stoic way, and Hackman handles his relatively small part with typically pungent style. As the film begins, the three of them are covering the civil war in Chad, but they quickly end up in Nicaragua at the height of the Sandinista rebellion in 1979. Nolte and Cassidy are particularly cold-blooded journalists. "I don't take sides," Nolte says at one point, "I take pictures." Yet the two of them align themselves on the side of the Sandinistas against Gen. Anastasio Somoza's repressive regime. Nolte even fakes a picture for the rebels' propaganda purposes, leaving Hackman to decide how he will treat his friends' violation of journalistic ethics. The directorial debut of Roger Spottiswoode, whose writing credits include 48 Hrs., is full of moving moments; one comes when Nolte first realizes he has been used by a French intelligence agent, played with reptilian finesse by Jean-Louis Trintignant. (Hill Street Blues' Rene Enriquez, as Somoza, and Ed Harris, as a ruthless mercenary, add powerful support.) But the movie is also burdened by a series of ludicrous coincidences and a blatant bias toward the Sandinistas. The ending's pat resolutions defy credibility. But the film, which was shot in Mexico, has so much emotional energy and visual texture it transcends the clichés to which it often resorts. This is a film to see. Argue about it later. (R)

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