Under Fire: Journalists in Combat


Films as hard-hitting as Under Fire: Journalists in Combat don’t come along very often. Here’s a documentary that turns its lens toward those with their camera lenses on war and destruction. It’s a talking heads piece that couldn’t be more well-served by this format. The stories told by these broken individuals are horrifying, and photographs and images would probably have made it unbearable to watch. But listening to them is both manageable and extremely moving.

The film’s structure is simple enough. A number of prominent war photojournalists share their hopes, fears, and the reasons they can’t stop doing what they do. They’ve all been in serious danger on more than one occasion, but the rush they feel being so close to death is too powerful to give up. This ultimately leads many of them to depression, PTSD, and alcoholism. And though they definitely regret certain actions, I’m not sure they wouldn’t go back to all this if asked.

We saw a similar thesis presented in The Hurt Locker, but there’s something about hearing it directly from those who have lived it that makes that message hit home harder. Watching these men—most of whom are very tough and gruff and proud—absolutely break down is painful, mainly because I don’t know how they manage to keep it together as well as they do. The things they’ve seen are horrific, and I can only imagine how hard it must be to escape. I can also see, however, what draws them into this line of work and how it might be difficult to come home and cover town hall meetings and such.

Visually, the film employs some dreamlike imagery that’s mostly effective, especially when the subjects discuss their recurring, PTSD-induced nightmares. Beyond that, however, the film is stylistically bare. It looks and sounds a little rough around the edges, which might hold it back come Oscar-nomination time. As far as I’m concerned, however, this should be one of your five nominees, hands down. It’s as close to an “everyone should see this” film as I’ve encountered this year, whether you’re in the media, politics, the military, or a firefighter or something. This isn’t just a film for journalism dorks like me. It’s frightening non-fiction that should make everyone thankful for the work these men and women do.

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