Tim Murphy (Don Johnson, with a huge mustache) is a Vietnam vet who is still haunted by his actions during the war. As a result, he can’t hold down a job, he’s abusive to his wife, and he’s woken up in the middle of the night by constant nightmares. One day, at the unemployment office, he meets another vet named Luke (Robert F. Lyons) and the two of them bond over their shared experiences. While Tim tries to come to terms with what happened during the war, his wife Paula (Lisa Blount) tries to keep the household together.
Barely released in 1985, Cease Fire is a largely but unfairly forgotten Vietnam film. According the film’s imdb page, Don Johnson once told an interviewer that he couldn’t even remember starring in a film called Cease Fire. That piece of trivia sounded too good to be true and, after doing a google search, I have not been able to come across any interviews where Johnson says that. In fact, in an interview with the AV Club, Johnson says that he filmed Cease Fire in Miami shortly after doing his first audition for Miami Vice. According to Johnson this was in the early stages of Miami Vice‘s development, before Michael Mann was even attached to the project. Since Miami Vice premiered (with Mann producing and Johnson starring) in 1984, that probably means that Cease Fire was filmed in either 1982 or 1983. Considering that it was a low-budget and talky film about a very unpopular war, it is not surprising to discover that it sat on the shelf for a few years before finally being released in order to capitalize on the sudden stardom of its main actor.
Even though both take place in Miami and feature Don Johnson as a Vietnam vet, Miami Vice and Cease Fire are as different as night and day. Cease Fire is a low-key and muted character study of a traumatized man who is struggling to face what happened in the past. There’s not much action but there is a lot of talking. Some of the dialogue is clumsy and obvious but both Don Johnson and Robert F. Lyons give good performance as the traumatized vets and Cease Fire is honest enough to admit that, even if he does take a few steps in the right direction, Tim still has a long road ahead of him. Cease Fire, which never got a DVD release but which is available on Amazon Prime, is a sincere look at the reality of PTSD and the struggle that many vets face when they first return home. It’s not a perfect movie but it’s saved by its own good intentions and Johnson’s sincere performance in the main role.
Cease Fire was also the first film to be directed by David Nutter. Nutter is today probably best known for directing several episodes of Games of Thrones, a show that has even less in common with Cease Fire than Miami Vice.