Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Silkwood, or how to make plutonium mundane

It’s odd to realize that this movie is now 25 years old. Even though it fits right into one of my sweet spots (loner takes on the evil bastard Corporation), I’ve managed to avoid watching it all this time, largely because I don’t like Meryl Streep. (Who, according to IMDB, is "considered by many movie reviewers to be the greatest living film actress". Bollocks. Lauren Bacall is still alive. And still acting.)

Even the DVD cover looks dated.

I decided to give it a go, after realizing that a lot of the actors and films I “don’t like” are actually rather good. Unsurprisingly, my opinions and tastes of 20 years ago aren’t the same as my opinions and tastes now. Humphrey Bogart is a case in point. I don’t like Bogart, except for Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The African Queen, which are two of my all-time favourite movies. And The Caine Mutiny, which is tense, well-acted, and gripping. And several of his film noir classics; Key Largo, Dark Passage, and The Big Sleep, which is just brilliant (and better than The Maltese Falcon, even though Peter Lorre isn’t in it). And High Sierra, which is a tight nailbiter of a film. And Sahara is a perfectly enjoyable war movie. Now how can I say I don’t like Bogey? What I really mean, I think, is that Casablanca is over-rated. But maybe I should give it another look soon and see if maybe it’s not that bad. Watch it again, Sam.

Bogey. Portrait by E. Smyth. That's not bad going - getting Bogey and Bacall into a review of Silkwood, and we're only two paragraphs in....

Yeah, Silkwood. Where was I? I hadn’t realized Cher was in it at all, let alone the fact that she was nominated for Oscars and BAFTAs and stuff, and actually won a Golden Globe for her performance. I thought her first major film role was Mask, which was a gobsmacking movie. I was going through my biker phase at the time, so any movie about bikers was pretty well guaranteed to get my attention, and I really liked the portrayal of bikers as human beings, not just stereotypical bad guys. I didn’t think she was that good in this, though. She was OK, but I wouldn’t have marked this as one of the great performances of 1983. Not that 1983 was a vintage year, or anything, but this really wasn’t anything to get excited about.

Kurt Russell plays Kurt Russell, as always

I’m finding it really hard to stick to the subject here, just like I found it hard to stick to the movie. I kept on going out and making coffee or finding a biscuit, or suddenly remembering that I had to make a phone call. Frankly, the movie just didn’t grab me. It was slow, and I wanted it to be far more like The Insider. Now that was a punchy movie. Silkwood just left me feeling like I didn’t really care. We’re talking true stories about plutonium here, folks, and I’m not caring that big companies are screwing around with it? That can’t be right. The whole sub-plot about Karen’s relationship with her boyfriend was tedious, and the film was far more focused on her attempts to organize a union than on the fact that the safety procedures were slipshod and frequently bypassed. Let’s face it, Karen Silkwood wasn’t exactly Jimmy Hoffa or Arthur Scargill when it comes to exciting, larger than life personalities in the union world. (Ah, bring on The Comic Strip presents… The Strike! That was a lot of fun.)

And the end was just limp. She died, and nobody knows exactly why. Not the writers, and not the viewer. That could have made a great start to the movie, though. Throw in some mystery, some confusion, a bit of conspiracy, and then take us on a journey to show how we got here. Then everything would have dark, ambiguous overtones, and it would have been a very different movie.

A high-tech nuclear facility run by the lowest bidder - should be much more scary than it is

I reckon it was a successful film only because it dared to tackle the subject it did, and not because it’s actually a good film. Meryl Streep was actually pretty good, though. But not good enough to make me re-watch Kramer vs Kramer or Out of Africa.

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