Continuing our week-long walk through seven classic Meryl Streep performances, this next film is about the real-life harrowing story of Karen Silkwood.
(To read other Streep films examined this week, you can link to my review of “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995))
“Silkwood” (1983) 3.5 / 5 stars – In most, if not all, places of business, employees gather in breakrooms, make friends with their coworkers and celebrate birthdays.
Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) enjoys similar dynamics at her place of work in every way except one: she handles plutonium which produces material for nuclear reactor rods.
This is an incredibly dangerous job as Karen and others wear protective suits and operate instruments through safety glass.
If, heaven forbid, anyone becomes exposed to the malevolent poisons, security/on-site health officials rush that particular person to the showers.
They are stripped, scrubbed and sanitized, but when plutonium is involved, will soap and a brush really wipe away the danger?
Karen, her boyfriend, Drew (Kurt Russell), and friend, Dolly (Cher), live under these daily work conditions, but in their small town in Oklahoma, “good” jobs are hard to find.
This is the premise for Mike Nichols’s traumatic biopic of Karen Silkwood, and Streep delivers a gripping and complex performance in the lead.
Karen leads a difficult existence.
In addition to the danger of her work environment, her kids live with their father in Texas, and she rarely finds an opportunity to see them.
It eats her up, but they live there, and she lives in Oklahoma.
That’s just the way it is.
Perhaps she can’t or doesn’t realize how to make changes in her life, but she certainly looks for justice within the plant.
Karen makes brave and unpopular decisions which upset management (and many of her fellow laborers), but finds inner strength to fight against the system while living with her own flaws.
Streep is exceptionally good here, and she conveys Karen’s burdens during her trudge towards justice and fair play.
It just so happens, in this case, her efforts could mean the difference between life and death.
In some respects, “Silkwood” is a thriller, but the film is more of a classic drama between employee and employer, and its pace is slow.
Nichols spends plenty of time with Karen’s life at home as she lives with the daily arguments (and laughs) with Drew and Dolly.
The film lulls us into this small town feel which is completely appropriate for a sense of setting, but it doesn’t necessarily add to the story.
We see lots of Drew and Dolly, but don’t really know what makes them tick.
Sure, Russell and Cher get plenty of screen time, but don’t enjoy many substantive moments.
We do, however, see Streep offer an unforgettable portrayal about woman whose story is thankfully told.
“Silkwood” is rated R and is available on DVD.
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