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Awesome: 23.08%
Worth A Look: 7.69%
Average: 15.38%
Pretty Bad53.85%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 7 user ratings

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by MP Bartley

"Of the moment, but that moment is long gone."
2 stars

I can only imagine the impact that Silkwood had when it opened - the story of a real female worker at a plutonium plant who died in mysterious circumstances after stirring up the unions and raising concerns about safety standards at her workplace is ripe with potential. But whatever potential that film had in 1983 is long gone by now.

Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) is a salty, foul-mouthed blue collar worker who ekes out a living by filling fuel rods for nuclear reactors with pellets of plutonium. It's not much of a living, necessitating that she lives with both her boyfriend Drew (Kurt Russell) and her friend Dolly (Cher), both of whom also work at the plant. What makes it worse is that the plant is not doing particularly well and is on the verge of losing a major contract - which results in long hours for everyone and corners being cut when it comes to safety. It's these measures that Karen takes issue with, making it a big union issue as well as raising concerns that the safety of the plant is not as it should be, and that they are all at risk of radiation poisoning.

With it's shades of Norma Rae and the 20-years-off Erin Brockovich, the appeal of Karen's story is still easy to see - one woman taking on the odds by fighting corporate giants before - and here come the spoilers lest you're completely unaware of her story - dying in very mysterious circumstances. Yet whatever appeal lies in this story - and simply reading up on the facts of the case is an engrossing and chilling experience - has been left resolutely untapped by both Nora Ephron's script and Mike Nichols' direction.

For a start, it's a film that takes a tortuously long time to finally get around to making its point. It's only by around the 90 minute mark that we get the first hint that Karen's activities have put her in danger and that her cockiness in antagonising the plant's owners may have serious repercussions for her. Before that, we have meandering asides about Karen's battle with her ex-husband to see her kids, Dolly's lesbian relationship with a mortuary make up artist, and Karen's endless fights with Drew. Nichols really struggles to find the dramatic kernel of the film and as a result feels flat and half-hearted - whatever he saw in the story in the first place, he's lost sight of and the film feels impersonal and baggy because of this. None of these plot strands lead anywhere meaningful and simply draw the attention away from where we should be focused on, which is the plant as a place of corruption and danger.

If Nichols was hoping that this cast alone would keep us interested in their fates, it's a forlorn hope. Russell is wasted in a non-descript role and while Cher does blue-collar lesbian better than you'd expect, it's also too thinly-written to really care about. As Karen, meanwhile, I'd say this marks the spot where Streep left behind her edgy, interesting '70s work and started putting in Streep-esque performances, all haughty mannerisms and inflections, but nothing that really suggests there's a character beyond the famous actress. Frankly, for a film that is all about the very-human characters at the mercy of a faceless company, there's not one person that we end up giving one whit about.

It would be unfair to say that the film is a complete loss, however. That final half hour is fairly tense as Karen realises she may be have been targeted in a fairly insidious and nasty way by someone high up in the company and the glimpses of how far they'll go to keep her quiet suggests the paranoid thriller that surely enthused Nichols in the first place. But even then, when it could floor you with a knockout punch that might fool you into thinking you're watching something better than you actually are, it fumbles and trips over itself. What should be a killer last scene and title card of ambiguity instead seemingly comes out of nowhere and elicits a general reaction of "Huh?" because of the lack of a real dramatic build up to it, instead of a righteous fury, which I would presume was the intention.

It's a disappointing, leaden mess of a film with a cast that is wasted on simple bad material, and is all the more infuriating because of the thrilling premise behind it. You'd be better off reading the Wikipedia article instead.

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originally posted: 04/04/12 00:11:20
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User Comments

11/06/13 Monday Morning Above average but they easily could have cut it by 20-30 minutes to spark it up a bit. 3 stars
2/20/06 djacosta Nothing impresive 2 stars
9/27/04 NJ Cup Winner 95-00-03 Before this, I couldn't stand I worship the ground she floats above 5 stars
3/25/04 john tense and involving - an honest human story - 5 stars
1/21/04 Betty White Great drama; Streep & Cher are wonderful. 5 stars
6/28/02 R.W. Welch Well acted conspiracy theory pic, interesting if inconclusive. 4 stars
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  02-Apr-1983 (R)



Directed by
  Mike Nichols

Written by
  Alice Arlen
  Nora Ephron

  Meryl Streep
  Kurt Russell
  Craig T. Nelson
  Diana Scarwid
  Fred Ward

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