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Silkwood

Year: 1983
Studio: ABC Motion Pictures
Director: Mike Nichols
Producer: Mike Nichols
Writer: Nora Ephron/Alice Arlen
Cast: Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell, Cher, Craig T Nelson, Fred Ward, David Sthrathairn, Bruce McGill

More so than showcasing the longtime and formidable talent Meryl Streep's always bought to her roles, this shows the filmmaking styles of the very early 80s, with narrative and technical tics audiences today (in 2012) wouldn't accept as readily.

I actually wondered if it's something Mike Nichols always carries with him. His films are firmly rooted to the time they're made, and hence they date quite badly. Just look at Working Girl, a film that encapsulates the shoulder pads and big hair of corporate America so well in the late 80s it's almost parody if you watch it today.

Along with Russell and Cher, Streep is a smalltown Texan with a dead end job that just happens to be at the pointy end of one of the most urgent public health crises of the late 20th century. The three of them work at a plant preparing nuclear materials for industrial use, and along with their union, they're constantly at loggerheads with their management (given voice by a ridiculously young Bruce McGill) who want to maximise profits and seem prepared to cut corners to do so.

In the great tradition of movie whistleblowers, Karen (Streep) has no desire to stumble across an ugly corporate secret that threatens countless lives, she just wants to maintain her relationships with friend and housemate Dolly (Cher) and live-in boyfriend Drew (Russell). When she's transferred to another section at work she discovers photographic slides of the fissile materials are doctored to cover up potentially disastrous impurities.

Even then Karen is more interested in saving her and her co-workers jobs than being a crusader amid a grand conspiracy, and if the fate the real Silkwood met hadn't occurred, this might have remained just a union drama.

If you have any idea what happens to Karen, the sequence that depicts her fate is heavy with sadness as she gets in her car to drive to a meeting, the soundtrack fades away and Streep herself sings a lilting, beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace as the headlights of a car come in way too close behind her...

It's worth seeing for Nichols' (and writer Nora Ephron) take on the events, but not so much for any outstanding filmmaking technique.

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