(director: Roger Spottiswoode; screenwriters: story by Clay Frohman/Clay Frohman/Ron Shelton; cinematographer: John Alcott; editors: John Bloom/Mark Conte; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Nick Nolte (Russell Price), Ed Harris (Oates ), Gene Hackman (Alex Grazier), Joanna Cassidy (Claire Stryder), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Marcel Jazy), Richard Masur (Hub Kittle), Alma Martínez (Isela), Jorge Santoyo (Guerrilla Leader), Jenny Gago (Miss Panama), Eloy Phil Casados (Pedro), Enrique Lucero (Prison Priest); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jonathan Taplin; Vestron Video/Lionsgate (Twilight Time); 1983)

Superior thinking man’s complicated political action drama.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Roger Spottiswoode(“Ripley Under Ground”/”Ice Bound”) wonderfully helms this superior thinking man’s complicated political action drama, that is saddled with a morally bankrupt hero dubiously praised for faking a photo that influences the war. Though short on the facts of the war in Central America, it makes poignant observations about the imperfections of war and the media.

It’s about three American war correspondents caught in a love triangle while covering the final days of the corrupt Samoza Regime in Nicaragua, in 1979. The story is by Clay Frohman, and is cleverly written by Frohman and Ron Shelton. Covering the revolutionary war in Chad are Alex Grazier (Gene Hackman), the ambitious veteran 50-year-old TV journalist who is in a relationship with the 40-year-old public radio war correspondent Claire Stryder (Joanna Cassidy). When the conflict in the African bush country subsides Alex takes a job with Time based in NYC, while Joanna moves on to cover the revolutionary war in Nicaragua. It’s Joanna who ends the affair, to his dismay. In Managua Claire meets her old friend, the 30-year-old photojournalist Russell Price (Nick Nolte), who is also Alex’s friend. They become lovers and diligently cover together the uprising. Both sympathize with the rebels. When through Russ’s contacts, he’s taken by the guerrillas to meet their never photographed before leader of the Sandinistas, Rafael, photos are taken of the dead man as if he were alive. The rebels deem it important for the world to think their leader is alive and insist on the photos.

When the photo is well-publicized in America, Alex comes to the Central American country to ask Russell to get him an exclusive interview with Rafael. All the characters justify being in the hot spot, even if it’s a dangerous assignment and their job is questionable. Jean-Louis Trintignantis is the mysterious French businessman associate of Somoza, who is slimy as a double-agent. Ed Harris is the ruthless American mercenary who goes from Chad to Nicaragua, not caring what side he’s on as long as they pay.

This is the kind of film where everything seems real, from the snipers in the streets to the lover’s pangs. It’s main flaw is that it goes on for too long. Hackman’s death scene at the hands of government soldiers was inspired by the tragic televised killing of the ABC correspondent Bill Stewart by the Somoza National Guard in 1979 because he took the side of the Sandinista rebels.

REVIEWED ON 10/18/2016 GRADE: B+