In 1978, David Raybourne is an American novelist who lives in Rome and works as a journalist in a small English-language newspaper. He is romantically involved with Lia, the estranged wife of an Italian Industrialist, and befriended by Italo Bianchi, a politically left-leaning lecturer at a Rome university.
The movie re-creates the backdrop of politically charged atmosphere and student unrest, in which the infamous Red Brigades commit their spate of violent attacks which rocked northern Italy in the 1970s, culminating in the kidnapping and later murder of Aldo Moro, former Italian Prime Minister.
As part of a plan to write a commercial novel and raise money to marry and support Lia in the style to which she is accustomed, Raybourne researches the activities and organization of the Red Brigades. He writes the draft of a novel, realistic but fictitious, with the plot centered on the kidnapping of a central political figure by the Red Brigades. During this time David Raybourne meets a beautiful and sexually provocative young photojournalist, Alison King. She is eager for a news story and is introduced by Raybourne to Italo Bianchi. Alison King becomes convinced that Raybourne knows something about the Red Brigades and is hiding a potential scoop from her, so after a sexual dalliance she searches his apartment and finds Raybourne's novel draft. She brings this to the attention of Bianchi who, despite his mild manner and seemingly moderate politics, is actually collaborating with the Red Brigades. He delivers the draft to a Red Brigades contact and the similarity of his fictitious plot to their actual kidnap plans causes them to conclude that their plans have been leaked. Raybourne realizes he is being hunted when the Brigades shoot his boss Pierre Bernier dead at the newspaper office, moments before Raybourne himself arrives. He then attempts to escape with Alison King with the aid of his romantic connection, Lia.
It turns out that Lia is even more deeply involved with the Red Brigades than Italo, and after a chase, Raybourne and King are captured. They are held while the kidnapping of Aldo Moro takes place. After this is achieved the Brigades leadership accuses Lia of the leak and shoot her for her apparent betrayal right before Raybourne's and King's eyes. They force King to photograph the body and instruct Raybourne to publicize the story as a warning to any future traitors.
The movie ends with Raybourne being interviewed on American television regarding the successful publication of a now non-fiction book about the Red Brigades and his contact with them, with a postscript saying that Aldo Moro was found shot to death in the trunk of a car nearly two months after his kidnapping.
The film received mixed reviews. New York Times film critic Janet Maslin, criticized the transition from book to film by saying, "But the plot, from a screenplay by David Ambrose based on Michael Mewshaw's book, turns out to be dizzyingly overcomplicated, and far too much of it hinges on the American journalist's supposed power to make trouble with his novel, which he says will be a "Day of the Jackal"-like mixture of real and fictitious characters. It is this journalist's advance knowledge of the plot to kidnap Aldo Moro, a former Italian Prime Minister, that makes so many waves."
Siskel & Ebert were divided, Siskel giving the film a thumbs-down, Ebert a thumbs-up. Ebert gave it a Rating: 3/4 at RogerEbert.com
The film credits contains a grave error stating that the opera aria Di Provenza il Mar heard early in the movie corresponds to the opera Aida from Verdi, when in fact it belongs to the opera La Traviata by Verdi.