Set during the Nicaraguan civil war in 1979, the film follows three US journalists — photographer Russell Price (Nolte), TV reporter Alex Grazier (Hackman), and radio reporter Claire Stryder (Cassidy) — who are sent to cover the events. The rebels against the Somoza government are led by someone named Rafael, who is never seen but whose face is shown everywhere. Russell wants to get a picture of Rafael because because he thinks it's a good story, but it turns out things are a lot more complicated than that. Also, while Alex and Claire were once married, they've now split up, and she and Russell end up falling in love with each other.
Not to be confused with the video game, this was one of a number of films made in the 1980s about various conflicts around the globe from the point of view of the reporters covering them, such as The Year of Living Dangerously, The Killing Fields, and Salvador.
This Film contains examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny: When Russell and Oates first run into each other in Chad (see Private Military Contractor below), Oates asks him what he's doing there, and Russell responds, "I was hoping to get a shot of your head being blown to smithereens.", which Oates chuckles at.
- Affably Evil: Somoza, who honestly believes he's doing good for the people in his country (instead of repressing them), and is perfectly charming during his interview with Claire.
- Ask a Stupid Question...: When Alex is trying to pitch the story of a nightclub bombing to his bosses over the phone:Alex: Look, the whole thing happened in a room of press and CIA...How do I know they were CIA? Because they wore nametags, what do you think?
- Big "NO!": Russell does this when he sees Alex murdered by Nicaraguan soldiers.
- Both Sides Have a Point: Hub Kittle, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, tries to claim this to the other journalists when he insists Somoza has a point. No one pays attention to him.
- By "No", I Mean "Yes": When Claire and Russell ask Jazy if he's a spy, Jazy initially denies this, claiming he's just a businessman, but in the course of a long speech he makes to them, he admits yes, he is a spy.
- The Casanova: Jazy, even sleeping with Somoza's mistress. This is why, when Claire and Russell break into Jazy's house, and soldiers come to knock on the door, Claire, who answers the door, is able to send them away by pretending to be one of Jazy's girlfriends.Soldier: The man does have a lot of girlfriends.
- Damsel in Distress: A Gender Flipped example; Russell gets pinned down by soldiers because He Knows Too Much about Alex's death, and Claire is the one who comes to rescue him.
- Defiant to the End: Jazy; even when he's confronted by rebels who are going to kill him, he gives a speech to Claire and Russell telling them how wrong-headed they are:I like you people, but you are sentimental shits! You fall in love with the poets; the poets fall in love with the Marxists; the Marxists fall in love with themselves. The country falls in love with the rhetoric, and in the end we are stuck with tyrants.
- Fake-Out Make-Out: Two of the rebels do this in front of the nightclub before they storm it and it gets bombed (see Ask a Stupid Question... above).
- Faking the Dead: Oates ends up doing this when the Sandinistas bomb a bunch of soldiers he was with. Russell agrees to help Oates keep up the ruse, which comes back to bite him (see Neutral No Longer below).
- Historical Domain Character: President Somoza, of course. There's also a mention of Dennis Martinez, a pitcher from Nicaragua who played for the Baltimore Orioles at the time, and whom one of the rebels is a fan of.
- Immediate Self-Contradiction: At a good-bye party for him at the beginning, Alex claims he doesn't want to go because he doesn't like being the center of attention. Claire points out this is a total lie, and Alex chuckles while admitting yes, he does love being the center of attention.
- Intrepid Reporter: Alex, Claire and Russell are all examples of this.
- Karma Houdini: Nothing happens to Oates from the killing of the rebel in cold blood, and he goes on to fight in another war (see Private Military Contractor below).
- Laser-Guided Karma: Jazy ends up getting murdered by the rebels
- Living MacGuffin: Rafael turns out to be this. Subverted when it turns out he's really dead, although Russell ends up taking a picture that makes it look like he's really alive.
- Married to the Job: Alex, Claire and Russell are all this. Claire has a daughter she only talks to by phone or by recording a message for.
- Missing White Woman Syndrome: Discussed by Claire and a Nicaraguan woman at a refugee camp when they're both watching TV footage of Alex's death:Woman: Did you know the man who was killed? (Claire nods) 50,000 Nicaraguans have died and now a Yankee. Perhaps now Americans will be outraged at what has happened here.
Claire: Perhaps they will.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Though Russell doesn't say this out loud, it's clear he's thinking this when he finds out all the pictures of the rebels he took are all in Jerzy's house, and the government has been using them to target the rebels.
- Neutral No Longer: Early in the movie, when Russell is thrown into jail along with a Nicaraguan priest, he tells the priest, "I don't take sides; I just take pictures." After Oates kills one of the rebels, and Russell is upset because he thinks he could have stopped it from happening, he agrees to take a picture of Rafael to make it look like he's still alive, even though he's actually dead.Russell: I think I just saw one too many dead bodies.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: After Oates kills one of the rebels (see Neutral No Longer above), Claire points out later this was the first time she's ever seen Russell not take any pictures of what happened.
- Precision F-Strike: When Hub tries to comfort Claire about Alex's death ("Jesus Christ, Claire, a human tragedy. What can I say?"), she angrily responds, "Fuck off, Hub!"
- Private Military Contractor: Oates is this. At the beginning, when he and Russell meet each other in Chad, Oates claims he's with government soldiers, but when Russell points out they're actually rebels, Oates shrugs. At the end of the movie, when the Nicaraguan civil war is over, Oates tells Russell, "See you in Thailand."
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The character of Alex Grazier is based upon Bill Stewart, an ABC News correspondent who was murdered by Nicaraguan soldiers (although the government originally claimed it was the Sandinista rebels), which eventually caused the Carter administration to withdraw support for the Somoza regime, leading to the overthrow of the government, just as in the film. Everything else in the movie is fiction, except for the war and the real people shown (see Historical Domain Character above).
- What the Hell, Hero?: Alex gets angry at Russell and Claire when he discovers they've been lying to him about Rafael really being alive, not just because of that lie (which he does sort of understand) but because they didn't trust him enough to tell him the truth.
- Where Are They Now: A brief one when Somoza is shown leaving the country; we're told he fled to Miami with his family when the Sandinistas took over, along with the bodies of his father and brother.
- Worth It: At the end, when Claire and Russell are watching the Nicaraguans celebrate their successful revolution:Claire: Do you think we fell in love with too much?
Russell: I'd do it again.
- You're Insane!: When Russell is asked by the Nicaraguan rebels to take a photograph of Rafael to make it look like he's alive, his first reaction is, "You're crazy."