The real-life story this film is based on is often called the Puerto Rican Watergate, but as a movie it comes a lot closer to Silkwood.
It centers on the deaths of two young supporters of Puerto Rican independence in 1978. They were killed by police who said the men tried to sabotage TV towers on Cerro Maravilla. (Puerto Rican politics often focus on the dispute among those who want Puerto Rico to remain a U.S. commonwealth, those who want it to become a state and those who favor independence.)
Subsequent investigations by journalists and the Puerto Rican Senate President, Miguel Hernández Agosto, established that the two men had thrown down their weapons before they were killed. Ten police officers were imprisoned in the case, and an investigation continues, with Senate Watergate Committee counsel Samuel Dash serving as special consultant.
This version of the story resembles Silkwood more than, say, All the President's Men because so much of the Cerro Maravilla case remains a mystery. This film, directed by Brazilian Bruno (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands) Barreto from a book on the case by free-lance writer Anne Nelson, suggests that an FBI agent ordered the killings and subsequent cover-up while pursuing an order to encourage reelection of pro-statehood Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló.
Irving plays a continental U.S.-born TV newswoman whose late husband was Puerto Rican (there was no such character in the real case), Garcia (Black Rain) the special prosecutor who helps her try to find the truth. Robert Duvall has an oddly bland role as Irving's boss, while Erik Estrada shows up as a cop with a guilty conscience, and Lou Diamond Phillips is an agent provocateur.
The plot unravels awkwardly, in what too often sounds like cant: "Sometimes you have to bend things a little to protect the public." "The man's a damned good anticommunist." It's a lot like a Costa-Gavras polemic without his style. (Costa-Gavras's State of Siege remains the most memorable indictment of the U.S. role in Latin America.) Irving seems too naive, exposing herself to unnecessary risks; the FBI agent, played idly by Kevin Spacey, blabs foolishly in a public place. It's hard to avoid thinking that if these details are wrong, other aspects of the film may be wrong too, and if this isn't a believable extrapolation of a real event, it isn't much of anything. (R)