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America the beautiful
paul2001sw-131 July 2004
The lives of working class Americans are shamefully under-represented by Hollywood, and when a poor person is depicted (as something other than a criminal), it's almost always with the subtext of hope and the American dream. But hope isn't what drives someone, like the real-life Karen Silkwood, to risk her life working with plutonium for the only employer in a company town. Silkwood didn't find hope, but she did get scared, and angry, and put her job (and those of her colleagues) at stake to uncover dangerous practices before dying a mysterious death. 'Silkwood' the movie doesn't give us the glib conclusions of a conspiracy thriller (it refrains from giving an opinion on her cause of death), but it does give an excellent portrait of life at the bottom, and the mounting sense of claustrophobia and paranoia that accompanied Karen's perilous voyage of discovery. Meryl Streep does an excellent job in the title role, portraying a woman gradually losing her sanity, and the whole cast is good, even Cher in an unglamorous role. In conclusion, this is a serious and important film; and a reminder for the fortunate how hard, and ugly, life can be, even in the "land of the free".
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what you have done for others
marycadney13 February 2007
I saw "Silkwood" again recently, and it seemed to make sense of the past 25 years of my life -- I finally understood why I began doing what I do.

When I was sixteen years old I broke both legs, and was out of school for two months. But twice a week my father, who worked nights as a security guard at the Kerr-McGee office building, took me downtown to the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, to watch the proceedings of the Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee trial during morning sessions. He insisted I go, he said, "So you'll learn something." I learned a lot about people then, and about the law, and the experience certainly took my mind off my own physical discomfort.

Mr. Paul, an excellent corporate lawyer, represented Kerr-McGee, which leased the operation of the plutonium plant in Crescent, Oklahoma, about thirty miles north of here. Mr. Spence represented the children of Karen Silkwood. Mr. Paul and his six associates seemed to change their suits every day. Perhaps they didn't want to see like the "great gray wall" -- which was the stereotype of corporate lawyers. But the net effect of seven men striving to seem individual was that of a great plumed serpent preparing to devour any small creature in its path. Mr. Spence, on the other hand, wore the same buckskin fringed coat each day. Each day he would place his Stetson on his table. He and the hat sat in splendid silence while the Kerr-McGee attorneys conferred and whispered.

Both men counted on the sentiments of a working-class jury. Mr. Paul figured people would recognize the contribution made to the community by Kerr-McGee, a locally owned business with world-wide influence, which provided many jobs to people here. Mr. Spence counted on them harboring deep suspicions, after having been treated like throw-away people for so many years by other employers of the same size as Kerr-McGee. My father was such a person. He worked for Kerr-McGee, but he distrusted corporate politics, and rightly figured they'd let him go right before he qualified for a pension. Later, that's exactly what happened.

Mr. Spence has sued the corporation for 2 million dollars. But the jury awarded him, and Karen Silkwood's children, five times that much. Later, thanks to an excellent foundation laid by Mr. Paul, Kerr-McGee was able to get the conviction overturned, then eventually settled for a payment of 1 million dollars to the grown children. Of course, Mr. Spence took about half of that, and after taxes, I suppose each of the three children had about enough to get a college education, or to buy a new truck and have a down payment on a house.

That's what happened to me. My father died not longer after being let go by Kerr-McGee. There was enough insurance money to pay for my college education. Then my mother died. For many years the social atmosphere in the Kerr-McGee offices, where one of my friends worked as a draftsman, prevented anyone from ever saying anything good about Karen Silkwood. I will not repeat was generally said about her, or her social life, her motivations or her politics.

I never met her, but I did see and hear the people who were for Karen Silkwood, and those who were against her, at the trial. It was clear to me that whatever else she may have been, she was a courageous person. By the time the movie was released, I was a junior in college, and suddenly changed my major to drama. After graduation, I found work with a film production company which filmed herds of cattle -- "Video Auction" was its name. Then I went to California, where I taught drama, or worked as a stage manager, for twenty years.

Watching "Silkwood" last week, for the first time in 24 years, reminded me of what the trial, and later the movie, showed me -- the part of you that lasts is what you have done for others. The lawyers will take everything else.
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Fear on many levels
rwd4evr28 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Anytime someone asks me what I'd consider the scariest movie ever, I say "Silkwood," and they say "But that's not a horror movie."


There is so much to fear here, and scariest of all, probably, is the fact that the title character lived just a few decades ago, in modern-day America.

There is the fear that comes from living in poverty, or right on the edge of it. Silkwood, her cohorts, and most of her coworkers have little education; they live humble lives of church revivals, rebuilt cars, and "mystery meat" sandwiches brought for lunch in brown paper bags. The nuclear plant where they work is the only game in town (or the entire state), in terms of wages and benefits. And so, every day, they live in fear of losing their jobs. They have spent their lives being instructed to trust authority and submit to it. They are intimidated by the managers and supervisors who frown on camaraderie, and positively scowl on their labor union.

There is the fear of the unknown at the plant -- trucks being dismantled and buried behind barbed wire, under guard and under cover of darkness. Management gives the workers the minimum amount of information they need to perform their jobs, and often withhold or disguise facts that are essential to their very survival.

Karen, a somewhat rebellious, less-than-conscientious worker, is shocked into activism when her co-worker Thelma, becomes exposed to radioactive contamination, or "cooked." For me, this sequence is one of the most disturbing. Thelma is probably only in her 40s, but she looks like she's ready for retirement, due to the hard life she has lived. Her daughter is dying of cancer, and she herself wears wigs most days, because her hair is falling out. It's hard to watch the weeping, pleading Thelma being forcibly scrubbed head to toe with a stiff brush, water being shot into her eyes and nose, in a dubious attempt to "decontaminate" her. She is then patronized by a doctor who straight-facedly assures her that she has only superficial exposure and will be just fine.

There is fear when Karen sticks her neck out -- talking to union reps, traveling to Washington, and being sent back to work with a dangerous assignment: to gather evidence. At one point in the film, absolutely no one is supporting her. Her roommate feels resentful and rejected; her boyfriend has moved out, jealous of her involvement with the sophisticated people from Washington, and her co-workers treat her like a pariah, afraid that being seen talking to her will brand them as troublemakers, endangering their jobs, or even their lives.

Their worries seem more and more valid as the movie progresses. She walks into a roomful of supervisors, and they all fall silent. Suddenly, every time she walks past a radiation monitor, the alarms sound and she, like Thelma, is dragged to the dreaded decon room, where her skin is scrubbed raw -- torture chillingly disguised as medical necessity. Even her home is no longer safe. Plutonium is found in a urine sample that she brings from home, and every item in her house--right down to the wallpaper--is emptied and taken away from her. Her stone-faced, smooth-talking boss is right there, encouraging her to sign a statement that will undoubtedly absolve the company of any responsibility.

The headlights Karen sees in her rear-view mirror are not the last thing we see that frightens us. It's her wrecked car being slowly towed past the restaurant where a union meeting is still in progress.

The movie hits so many of our fear buttons: Helplessness, loneliness, rejection, vulnerability, and finally, the bottom-line thing we all fear the most. The most encouraging note is the awareness that anyone who sees this movie will come away with. It's a blueprint for empowerment.

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It is worth the time!
Sylviastel5 April 2002
Warning: Spoilers
After watching Silkwood, I became fascinated and mesmerized by the true story behind it. I read the book, bought A&E biography video, and the History Channel's video: Contaminated, the Karen Silkwood Story. Despite reading other comments, I totally disagree about Karen Silkwood who probably saved more lives and lost her own to protect her colleagues and neighbors in Crescent, Oklahoma. If she had not spoke up in the seventies, Kerr-McGhee would still have a nuclear reactor plant in Crescent, Oklahoma. What most people do not know is that Karen's mysterious death haunted a huge Enronlike company. The plant closed in the following year. The shocking discoveries such as missing plutonium and horrible working conditions for its employees.

Two showers for the entire company! Karen Silkwood's life was tragically cut short but she did more in 28 years than most people can do in their entire lifetime. Meryl Streep played her wonderfully. Kurt Russell and Cher played their roles quite admirably. This film was showed to high school students who became equally fascinated by the story after viewing the history channel's video. After the film, they even wanted to watch the biography video. Now anything that can keep teenagers interested in plutonium and nuclear energy is worth all the trouble. This film's only criticism from the students was that there was too much smoking in this film. Granted, all the main characters smoked in the seventies. After all, I think lung cancer from smoking was far less riskier than working in a nuclear plant.
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Considering the time period, a pretty good film.
devron123 October 2003
I took the time to register with IMDB just to present a more accurate review of this movie than the person that wrote that the movie was a joke. While not one of the best movies of its type, it's still pretty well done. The story moves along well....clues are dropped throughout the movie to show the possible conspiracy at work. I would consider "The Insider" as one of the better movies of this type that was made in recent years, and even that movie shows traces of having evolved from movies like Silkwood.

I find most movies of this type that were done in the 80s as generally pretty cheesy. Silkwood does a pretty good job of "not being too cheesy". And if there is any trace of "cheesiness" (if you will), it's represented in the way that the townspeople react to Karen Silkwood. And the reactions worked for me, because when I think of how seriously people reacted to issues like nuclear or toxic contamination back in the late 70s/early 80s, there was a lot less info available. Nowadays in the "Oprah" and "11 o'clock news warnings" generation, where there's something new that we should be cautious of everyday, these types of stories are much more believable.

Meryl Streep (as expected) far outshines the rest of the cast. Kurt Russell turns out a pretty nice performance. Cher's performance was ok. I think at the time she probably received a lot more recognition for this role because it began to show her range. But she's been better in subsequent roles.

All in all, Silkwood is a movie that doesn't suprise or open the eyes of all the conspiracy- conscious people that are alive in 2003, but it does provide a touching story about a town that was dealing with the prospect of having to choose between the risk of toxic infection and their livelihood. But the real story here is about the one woman that cared enough to dig a little and ask a few questions and the danger that developed from taking a stand. 8 out of 10.
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Whistle-Blowing Could Be Hazardous to Your Health.
tfrizzell3 July 2002
Intense 1980s flick that is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep in an Oscar-nominated role), a woman at a plutonium plant who began to talk about what really went on at the facility where she was employed. It seems that nuclear tampering would lead to the poisoning of the plant's employees and the pollution of the environment. Silkwood was about to talk to the New York Times about the Oklahoma plant when she died under mysterious circumstances in a car accident. The audience knows what is going to happen, but it is getting there that is the fascinating part. Mike Nichols' Oscar-nominated direction is arguably the best of his career, with the exception of his work on "The Graduate". Cher (also Oscar-nominated) proved that she was a legitimate actress as Streep's lesbian co-worker. Kurt Russell also gives his finest performance as Streep's on-again-off-again boyfriend. However with all that said, it is Meryl Streep who gives one of her finest performances in this memorable, remarkable and important motion picture. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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I think many reviews miss the point
LoliRyder2 August 2003
One of the things that many movies are missing these days are the small details and things that happen in everyday life - and how we are able to learn about characters through small visual clues rather than the large hammer of exposition-driven dialogue.

For instance, in the scene where the characters are looking at the slides of the trip to Washington: towards the end are two photos with Streep and Ron Silver's character. In the second photo, she leans into him a little bit. That tiny bit of body language makes us wonder - and Kurt Russell's character too. He suddenly moves his arm from around Streep's and suddenly she's aware that something's wrong. It's all in the unspoken. There isn't a preceding scene where she picks up the other guy, or goes to bed with him or even lies to Kurt Russell. It just cuts to this scene, and we the viewer learn along with Kurt that she's been unfaithful - which also reveals a little more about this person Karen Silkwood.

She's not a perfect hero - she's flighty, irresponsible, impulsive and non-committal - so the question becomes, why did she change? Why did she risk her life when she finally truly understood the risks? And how does Kurt Russell come to terms with this changed person he is in love with, given that he is just a guy who knows how to fix a car not save the world?

Watch Mike Nichols' inspired direction; he rarely cuts away in the middle of a scene. A lot of Kurt, Cher and Meryl's acting happens all in one take. *That's* truly good acting and directing.

Good dialogue in a film is in knowing what's happening without it being said. Don't fast forward the first hour - really pay attention and see how much you learn from the small details that will enrich your viewing of this film.
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Brave Treatment of a Controversial Subject
JamesHitchcock10 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Contains spoilers

Karen Silkwood works at a nuclear processing plant in Oklahoma; the company's business involves manufacturing plutonium fuel-rods for the nuclear power industry. At the beginning of the film Karen seems to be an ordinary worker with no tendencies towards activism or political radicalism. (The fact that she and her boyfriend display a prominent Confederate battle flag in their bedroom would suggest that politically she is on the right). She changes, however, when she realises that the management of the plant have a cavalier attitude towards the health and safety of their employees, particularly the risks of radioactive contamination, and that, worse still, they are doctoring x-ray photographs of the fuel rods in order to cover up potential defects that could prove disastrous. Karen becomes a campaigner for improved safety standards, but is killed in a car crash while driving to meet a journalist to inform him of her suspicions.

I would agree with the author of the earlier comment who stated that Hollywood films rarely focus on the lives of modern working-class people, and that 'Silkwood' is one of the rare exceptions. (Films with a labour relations theme, such as 'Matewan' or 'The Molly Maguires', often have a historical setting, as though clashes between workers and employers were something from the Bad Old Days which have largely been overcome in modern society). Nevertheless, 'Silkwood' is not simply a tale of 'workers versus capitalists'. Although Karen's safety campaign has the support of her trade union's national leadership, she antagonises not only the management of the plant but also many of her fellow-workers, who value job security more than personal safety. There are few other employment opportunities in their small town, and they fear that, if forced to implement stricter safety rules, the company will simply close the plant, thus putting them out of work. There is a strong implication that the 'accident' in which Karen dies may have been arranged deliberately, but there is no hint as to who might have been responsible.

The more recent Julia Roberts film 'Erin Brockovich' owes a clear debt to 'Silkwood'. Both films are based on true stories, and in both a young single mother takes on a powerful corporation playing fast and loose with public safety. 'Erin Brockovich', with its upbeat ending, is more optimistic; it is also, in my view, the better film as its director Steven Soderbergh is able to hold our interest throughout, whereas 'Silkwood' can drag at times. The first half of the film, which concentrates as much on Karen's tangled personal life as on the main theme of nuclear safety, can seem particularly slow. Nevertheless, the film becomes more gripping in the second half, aided by a superb performance from Meryl Streep in the leading role, one of a series of great parts that made her probably the best film actress of the eighties. I am always surprised that she lost the 'Best Actress' Oscar to Shirley MacLaine's caricature of a performance in 'Terms of Endearment'. There are also excellent contributions from Kurt Russell as Karen's boyfriend Drew and from Cher, cast against type as Dolly, the dowdy lesbian who befriends Karen.

'Silkwood' is not a great film, but it is a brave one, treating a controversial social and political issue with greater freedom than we normally see in Hollywood movies. 7/10
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Meryl Streep at her best
StreepFan1262 October 2002
Even though you already now how the movie ends just by reading the taglines, there is still a strong element of suspense in this film, about Karen Silkwood who suspects that the lives of hereself and her co-workers are in danger. It is a well written film, and masterfully acted by Streep and her castmates. This one makes Julia Roberts in Erin Brochievich look really bad.
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We're all nuked and going to Hell.
lee_eisenberg30 March 2006
Apparently, when "Silkwood" came out, Mike Nichols hadn't released a notable movie since "The Fortune" nearly killed his career eight years earlier. If we call this his comeback, then it was sure a good comeback. Donning one of her many accents from over the years - in this case Oklahoman - Meryl Streep plays Karen Silkwood, a plutonium processing plant employee who sought to expose the dangerous conditions in her workplace...and mysteriously died in a car wreck.

This is the sort of opportunity to be idiotically preachy, but the movie never degenerates into that. It shows how the plant's owners poisoned her and psychologically berated her. This brings to mind the overall issue of how the nuclear age affected the whole planet. Nuclear tests by both the US and USSR left the whole world irradiated. Nuclear power may be discredited, but apparently NO PERSON ON EARTH has escaped nuclear fallout. So much for progress.

All in all, "Silkwood" is a really good movie. It's surprising to see Kurt Russell and Cher (as Karen's roommates Drew Stephens and Dolly Pelliker) in this sort of movie; we associate him with kick-ass roles and her with treacly roles. But they do a very good job. Also starring Craig T. Nelson, Diana Scarwid, Fred Ward, Ron Silver, and Bruce McGill.
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A Woman With A Plan
mattsexcity20 October 2003
When I first saw this film a year ago, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I couldn't believe how brave one woman could be, with disastrous consequences. Someone who fought not for herself, but for other people as much as herself. To protect others from terminal illness and maybe death.

Karen Silkwood is a normal woman, dating a normal man, living with her boyfriend and friend in a normal house in a normal town. She works in the power plant, which seems to be pretty normal, but when the truth is unfolded, it puts everyone who works there lives in danger.

Meryl Streep --- Karen Silkwood

Cher --- Dolly

Kurt Russell --- Drew

Written by --- Nora Ephon

Directed by --- Mike Nichols

Running Time --- 126 mins

Certificate --- 15


Most of the people in Karen's town work in the local power plant down the road from where they live. It's an easy life. They go in and work, even though they have to wear special masks, they're pretty safe. But, all goes downhill when Karen realises that the plant are cheating all the employees and putting people's lives in risk and in danger.

Karen was stuck in a marriage she was unhappy in, and moved from Texas to a little town miles away. Although she was happy she'd got out of an awful marriage, she had to leave her kids behind with their father and move alone to a new town.

Luckily she did find work in the local power plant, but she only managed to go and see her children every couple of months.

One night whilst Karen is going home, she sees her boss burying a massive lorry full of radioactive plutonium into the ground outside the plant. Karen thinks nothing of it, until more and more unfortunate things begin to happen.

In the plant there's a scanner. Every person who walks into the room must pass his or her hands through the scanner, to make sure no radioactive plutonium has affected them. But, when one of Karen's friends gets `cooked' and has to be cleaned with a brush she becomes suspicious.

Soon, Karen fights against her plant to safe herself and her friends around her, whilst trying to cope with a loving boyfriend, and a lesbian best friend, who's fallen in love with her.

Karen fights and fights for others thorough the film, and her strength really makes you sad but overjoyed that there were some people like this in the world at one time, fighting for others.


I don't remember seeing Meryl Streep in anything before this. She plays Karen Silkwood excellently, and although she doesn't resemble any likeness to the real Karen Silkwood, she still manages to fool us that she is actually the strong woman herself.

All three main actors have won Oscars, and I think all deserved one for this. Streep managed to show us the witty side of Karen, but also managed to show us her strong and kind side as well.

Karen finds it heart-breaking having to live away from her kids, and Streep really shows us not just how difficult that part of her life was, but how difficult her entire life was.

I was shocked to find out Cher played Dolly the anything but lesbian who cares more about the kitchen table than her appearance! Cher steps down from her glamorous roles, and plays the loyal best friend.

Cher's acting skills really come out in the film, because Dolly seems to be the complete opposite to Cher's character. Dolly doesn't wear make-up, doesn't care about hat people think about her, and basically is very laid-back. Nothing like the real star!

It's nice to see Cher play this sort of role, and prove to us that she can really act. She gave Streep a run for her money, and I'm sure she shocked a lot of people at the time of the release, showing that she really can act.

The third main-character is Kurt Russell, who plays Karen's badly done to boyfriend. Karen deeply loves him, but Drew cant seem to understand why she's fighting against the plant, and is more worried what will happen to her than anything else.

I don't think they cast the best person for Drew, I feel someone shyer would have been a bit more believable. But, nonetheless, he played his part wonderfully as Drew.

All three characters were very strong in one-way or another, and we really needed a strong actor/actress to play them. Someone like Susan Sarandon would have been too stereotypical, for Karen we needed someone who didn't always play the same part.

Obviously, all three actors did a lot of research, because all three main characters were alive at one time, as the film is based on true events. The research pulled off, and they managed to make us believe Kurt, Meryl and Cher are also Drew, Karen and Dolly.


This is my favourite film of all time. Not just because I'm blown away but the story, and the fact it is true, but the characters blow me away. All are so odd, but you can see and understand why they do something.

When I first saw the film, I was very upset but also intrigued. I have learnt a lot about Karen Silkwood and her life since the film, and along with Princess Diana, she is one of my heroines.

Every little thing in the film makes it a must-see for everyone. Everyone will enjoy this film, but maybe enjoy isn't the right word. It's a strong story that you don't enjoy it, but you won't believe what you see.

The film was screen played excellently and thoroughly by Nora Ephron (You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle) and you can tell she looked at every detail.


A brilliant film with fantastic performances, a fantastic story that will blow you away. A really touching film. A MUST see!

Written By: Matt Roberts.
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'Silkwood', a brand name for courage, altruism and integrity ...
ElMaruecan8227 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Karen Silkwood, casually chewing gum, finishes her working day by a routine cleaning task. She then leaves the room, raises her hand toward the radiation detector, as she always does, but this time, the strident alarm suddenly starts ringing, indicating that she may have been exposed to radiations. Karen tries not to panic although she's visibly shocked. And the scene cuts to the first of her three "cooking" treatments, which in nuclear jargon, means getting into a hot, long and painful decontaminating shower. That very moment is Karen Silkwood's story in microcosm, perfectly reflecting who she was and what she went through.

Basically, Karen can't see the danger pending above her frail shoulders. She's not a fool but in a tragically admirable way, she is just blinded by her own integrity. Later in the film, she just enters the door, and the sound startles us again, we have a quick glimpse on the "Danger Radiation" signal, then it cuts to her cries of fear and disbelief under the hot shower, again. The sad irony is that Karen tried to apply some cleansing on the field of ethics, in the Nuclear factory she worked in, but the more she tried, the more tortured she was by the 'invisible enemy'. And the frequency of the shower scenes plays like the omen of a series of misfortunes leading up to a tragic conclusion, the ultimate 'cleaning'.

Indeed, we all know that Karen Silkwood died in a mysterious car accident, so the shower scenes, each time more intense and haunting, marks the beginning of the end for Karen Silkwood. But as aware as we are about the facts, there's something in Karen's portrayal by Meryl Streep and in Mike Nichols' sober directing that don't get us prepared to it. Karen is no more idealistic than any other, she lives her life, she jokes and smokes, a lot as a matter of fact, she enjoys flirting, teasing her friends, she's like any small-town girl of her generation. "Silkwood" borrows many elements from 70's dramas like "Serpico", "Norma Rae" or "The China Syndrome", movies featuring ordinary persons, so dedicated to their job they couldn't close their eyes on some unethical practices and made outcasts of themselves by blowing the whistle.

Karen belongs to America's struggling, unorganized working class. Her three children live with her ex-husband, and she shares a ramshackle house with her boyfriend Drew and lesbian friend Dolly, superbly played by Kurt Russell and Cher. As to emphasize the fact that the factory nourishes the town, they also happen to be co-workers. Indeed, whether a cotton mill or corporate police, the factory producing plutonium fuel rods for nuclear reactors, is only the setting and the film deals with a sincere austerity a slice of American workers' ordinary lives in a crisis-stricken America, with a more dramatic turn since it's a life-and-death situation, governed by pure profits' motives.

When the plant falls into an important contract and workers are forced to work over hours and falsify some records, the effect on their health is perceived as minor collateral damage, a chance even workers are ready to take, because at least, their wages is a valuable certitude. "Silkwood" chronicles Karen's double evolution: her ascension from a worker to a union activist, traveling to Washington, interacting with union officials, testifying before the Energy Atomic Commission and revealing that some records are altered. And in the same time, there's a descent into the outcast status, making her more and more undesirable, but in the meantime, more and more determined to conduct the investigation on her own.

Karen died the night she was supposed to give documentation to New York Times reporter but none of it was found in her crushed car, except convenient hints indicating that she was drugged and 'fall in sleep" while driving. From all the previous heroes I mentioned, Silkwood is the most tragic character because she paid the highest price. And what makes the story so heart-breaking is that it's not until it's too late, that she realizes she's been sailing on trouble waters. I'm still haunted by the last shot of Karen blinded by headlights on her rear view mirror. Is she worried, surprised? or does she literally see the light, realizing where her fight has lead up and is probably aware of what's awaiting her?

We're only left with our sorrow, sadness and disbelief shared by her co-workers and friends when the crushed car is dragged to town. And it's the bold and abrupt realism that emotionally enhances the film, it's set in 1974, but the feeling is so authentic I felt like it was made in 1974.Nichols' doesn't stylize the film, shot like a documentary. The big corporations aren't vilified as Karen isn't romanticized either. The only time the 'David vs. Goliath' aspect of her fight is hinted is when she looks for retouched negatives of faulty fuel rods and is confronted by Craig T. Nelson. She tells him she's looking for her pills, but the intimidating towering presence of Nelson accentuates Karen's vulnerability and provides the first hints of danger.

Realistic dramas like "Silkwood" can only rely on performances and Meryl Streep dilutes herself as Karen Silkwood. She wasn't thirty in "Kramer vs. Kramer" but she conveyed a classy maturity, she's older in "Silkwood" but she looks like a 28-year old woman with that mixture of tenderness and carelessness, and so deeply rooted altruism. I didn't know Meryl Streep could look so adorable, so childish, being sometimes naughty, yet revealing a stronger side than anyone, something she didn't knew she had.

That's the stuff heroes are made on and I was sad to see that Karen Silkwood was only listed as 47 on AFI's Top 50 Heroes, so far below Norma Rae (#17) and Erin Brokovich (#31), especially since the reason why I loved "Silkwood" is precisely why I didn't like "Erin Brokovich".
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It Has Something for Everyone!
MafiaScarecrow2 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Karen, a low-income science loving woman from Texas, lives with her two co-workers: Dolly (played by Cher), who is a lesbian and Karen's best friend, and Drew, Karen's easy-living boyfriend. All three of them work for the Kerr-McGee corporation, along with several employees:

Winston - a pervert and the nervous new guy

Hurley - the foreman and Karen's boss/ sort of friend

Gilda - Karen's friend in their station

Velma - a mother of several kids, including a daughter with cancer

Wesley - an obnoxious worker but nice guy

When Karen learns of illegal photo tampering, unsanitary workplace conditions, shifty workers and hidden evidence, she goes undercover, and everyone eventually leaves her side, except for Dolly. Eventually Karen's home is contaminated and ripped apart by men in HAZMAT suits, and she gets mad at Hurley when he accuses her of contaminating her own home. After being internally contaminated by plutonium, Karen begins to lose her sanity, and gets killed in a mysterious car crash.

It was fairly accurate, the acting wasn't too cheesy, and the movie was funny as well as dramatic. One actor who did really well was the one who played Winston. I'd rate it 10/10, except it seemed that Karen worked so hard, only to be murdered in a ditch. Granted, it is based on true events, but it just seemed a lousy way to end the chance of Karen avenging her co-workers. Overall, it's definitely worth watching. It has some great shots of Texas oil refineries and chemical factories, it's got lots of action, and it makes a significant point.
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All Space Filled
tedg26 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The story here: Large company doing dangerous things, puts the nation and its employees in harm's way. One of these is tracked, her loves disappointments and death. Indeed, the nuclear complex at the center of this story (closed) is now the world's largest Superfund site, costing over two billion dollars a year just to monitor. The problems there were related to what you see here on screen.

Somehow the steam has gone out of this story, as in the modern era the trespasses of government and big business even make this seem small comparing consequences. But there are some interesting elements of this film that make it a joy to watch.

The unseen villain here is radiation. You cannot see it. After the fact, you can track it using the same methods (in movie terms) as a regular detective. But its pervasive and final. Its a reflection of noir that there is an unseen force, controlled subconsciously by the audience that changes the ordinary lives we randomly choose. Has to be ordinary people. Mike Nichols understands this. Its why, I think, he chose this project.

You see, Mike's talent is in filling all the space. He fills the frame. He fills the lives, the dialog. There's depth there. Its not depth in the emotional sense — he is careful to keep the arc clean and easy to read. No, its just that he leaves no space empty. Even the framing of a shot has the sort of clutter you find in real life. There's no stage cleanliness where if you see something you know it will factor in the story.

He does this editing-wise as well. There's a deliberate shortening of each scene by a fraction of a second from the norm. It doesn't seem rushed; there's not that sort of hurry. It just seems densely packed.

Streep has some flaws as an actress. But this is one approach to film she fully understands and inhabits. Watch her. She's got something going with every part of her body every moment. Its not nervousness, and most of it has nothing to do with supporting the character or story in the usual, direct ways. She's just filling space, that space that Nichols has allocated to her, that falls within the boundaries she is given.

Its really quite wonderful in terms of the craft. I don't find it all that effective myself. I prefer someone who understands the holes and voids, the dissymmetries and incomprehensibles. These are the things that capture us. If you understand those, and how to modulate them in at least one of the ways Nichols has learned to demodulate, then you have a start at film-making.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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Compelling Drama
Theo Robertson14 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
A common question to this movie is: If Karen Silkwood and her colleagues are so worried about being contaminated by plutonium at a processing plant then why do they smoke so many cigarettes if they're worried about their health ?


Because they volunteered to smoke ! They're adults and as adults they should be able to choose their own paths to hell . Even in 1973 the setting of this bio-pic everyone knew the risks of smoking related diseases and it's their health so if they want to ruin their health why should they be stopped from doing so ?


I don't know if it's irony on the point of director Mike Nichols but there does seem to be an awful lot of cigarette consumption in this movie . Certainly if there's any one wanting to give up the weed they should give this movie a miss . But the point remains that in 1973 ciggie packets carried government health warnings and everyone knew of the dangers even though they didn't want to admit it . Was the plutonium industry quite so honest ?

What I liked about this collaboration between director Nichols and screenwriters Alice Arlen and Nora Ephron is that the audience is allowed to think for themselves on the issue of conspiracies and possible state sanctioned murders . Was Karen Silkwood bumped off for knowing too much and for being a trouble maker ? Possibly states the film but much of this is left somewhat ambiguous unlike say JFK by Oliver Stone . Likewise Karen's urine sample . Was it tampered with or was the radiation levels high because Karen was contaminated by a plutonium leak ? Once again the audience is left to make up there own minds

Some people have criticized SILKWOOD because it feels very much like one of those cheap TVMs that even having a well known cast can't disguise . I won't disagree too much but this is because films of the period lacked much gloss and you can probably use the opposite argument in that nowadays Hollywood movies feature too much gloss and visual superficiality . Compare SILKWOOD with THE INSIDER or ERIN BROCKOVICH and make up your own mind if one's not glossy enough or the other two are too glossy to be effective . Certainly Nichols directs a scene where Karen walks through detectors and a jump cut occurs where she is undergoing decontamination procedure . I have no idea why but this scene shocked me to the core and this scene alone makes SILKWOOD a very memorable movie
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This movie was very important for our time.
bobswartz200023 September 2004
This movie was only a glimpse into the future. We all, should be very thankful that Hollywood had the guts to produce a story like this. Meryl Streep did a wonderful job of portraying Karen Silkwood. This movie was only a glimpse into the future. I think this movie was a real eye opener at the time. Unfortunately, now there are enough true stories out there like this, it would keep Hollywood busy full time, if they produced them all. Meryl Streep you are my star for ever, but please mentor someone else with your talent. Our country needs it.

With CSI on TV today it would be nice to have a spin off with details of Karen's head x-rays and auto damage in order to get closer to the truth. A modern day story called 'Wounded Bear' depicts a very similar story. This story has CT's and would bring you to the truth of both stories. I have Silkwood

on tape because I feel it is an important part of history.
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Depressing Realism
Lechuguilla28 November 2014
The plot of "Silkwood" is fairly close to my memory of major events as they played out in Oklahoma, and reported by local news over multiple weeks. A lone individual up against a big corporation is always a compelling story. In this case, the individual, Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), proved morally superior to Kerr-McGee, even though the story ends tragically. This film is unusual in that the plot and characters are not exaggerated at all.

Quite aside from the film's deep political and social themes, "Silkwood" excels at a personal level. All the characters are real people, and the script and actors convey deep and meaningful characterizations. This is true even of secondary characters like Thelma (Sudie Bond) and Mr. Hurley (Bruce McGill), for example. These peoples' lives are all rather common and dreary, but what a welcome change from the contrived and two-dimensional characters in most films.

Detailed production design matches the dreariness and bleakness of these blue-collar workers in rural America. The naked light bulb that hangs from the ceiling in Silkwood's house; the drab green paint peeling off kitchen cabinets; that old beat-up white car Karen drives. On and on, the settings are realistic and appropriately depressing. The low-key, country/banjo score amplifies the realism of time and place, as does the old gospel hymn "Amazing Grace".

Casting is ideal. I don't know how the acting could have been improved. Meryl Streep just disappears into the role of Karen Silkwood. Both Kurt Russell and Cher deserved awards. Even minor roles are well cast, and the performances are terrific.

Color cinematography is quite good. Night scenes, both interior and exterior, are impressive. There's one scene in the second half where Karen and Dolly (Cher) sit out on the front porch in a swing; it's night; Dolly is crying and Karen reassures her with a soft version of the song "Hush-a-bye, don't you cry, go to sleep little baby, when you wake…". As the camera backs away, we see that drab, lonely house with a melancholy Karen and Dolly, an image that is powerfully haunting.

"Silkwood" conveys a highly realistic, true-life story about a very ordinary young woman who, despite personal issues and imperfections, takes big risks to do what is morally right. The film is sad, depressing, and very well made. It easily ranks among my twenty best films of all time.
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Pretty great
Red_Identity12 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I think the advertising for this is very, very misleading. The poster on wikipedia makes it seem like a thriller, a crime story, and the summary here on IMDb isn't much better. It's just not that up-front about the things happening. I don't know if everything shown in the film is exactly like it happened in real life, but it's definitely a very realistic story about a woman trying to get answers and then finding her demise, except we don't know for sure if her car accident really was just that, an accident, or the work of other people trying to get rid of a woman looking for the truth in dangerous places. Regardless, Streep is marvelous here, deeply embodying that Oklahoma accent with perfection and playing a character that we've never seen her play before.
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dfry-14 November 2001
What a fine film 'Silkwood' is. Moment after fine moment brings tears to my eyes. Mike Nichols direction is superb and the entire cast, from supporting roles to lead roles are exceptional.

This is the film that Meryl Streep should have won her Best Actress Academy for (no slight of the other extraordinary female performances that came out in 1983), but Ms. Streep's performance speaks straight to my heart. Her warmth and generosity as a being, radiates love and empathy through her portrayal of the tragic heroine Karen Silkwood.

Cher is remarkable and real. Both her and Kurt Russell give the performances of their carreer.

'Silkwood' is an underrated acheivement (no doubt deemeed to slow by many), but the pace and the drama are expert examples of what discering films have to offer.

Darren C.
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A great look back at early 80s films
JTatum-228 October 1999
I thought this was a very nice film. It was nice to see three people acting well together (Cher, Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell). This type of story is very intersting to me. We see radiation treated so comically on The Simpsons but it is a very serious thing. Also, I thought it was great to have a film that had such simple locations and sets. No special fx were necessary and the result was a nice film with a good story. I would recommend Silkwood to anyone who likes these actors and anyone who is interested in true stories or films about organized labor.
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Magnificent Meryl
Boyo-23 February 1999
Meryl Streep is fantastic in this true story of Karen Silkwood. As usual, Mike Nichols gets the best actors to be in his movies, and this cast is terrific, especially Ray Baker, Sudie Bond, David Strathairn and Ron Sivler. Kurt Russell gives his best performance. I love this movie very much and do not find it boring in the least.
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Too heartless
MovieAddict201620 October 2005
This movie plays like a made-for-TV, cheap biography. Meryl Streep gives a good performance but otherwise the film itself is rather disappointing. Mike Nichols, one of our most respected directors, leaves much to be desired in the directorial department. The overall impact of the movie is dull and unmoving.

Streep plays Karen Silkwood, a woman who was (it is believed) killed by conspiring nuclear facility managers after she was going to make public a revelation regarding safety regulations. Her boyfriend in the film is played by the hapless Kurt Russell, given no depth and nothing of substance to work with - he comes across as a one-dimensional helping hand.

The rest of the cast is simply mediocre (Cher is obnoxious as usual) and the film as a whole is vastly overrated. Although it is considered some kind of masterpiece of biographical film-making, I thought "Silkwood" was a pretty lame movie - notable only for its main performance and little else.
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top notch performance by the trio lead
zain-nov3 September 2018
It's rare to see top actors playing roles in which they fit just perfectly. A movie which spends a lot time to help audience understand the dynamics of the medical effects it would explore later on. Very technical and detailed screen play brought to us by top notch performance by the trio lead.
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Blinded With Science!
TheBlueHairedLawyer21 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I might as well start off by stating that I litter and don't recycle and use pesticides and do everything I can to cause pollution, I like pollution. But I've always loved this movie, not from an environmental aspect but because it shows the life of average, working class people and instead of trying to make it glamorous, it keeps it true. I love the acting, and I'm not a big fan of the bluegrass but the solo of Meryl Streep singing Amazing Grace was stunning at the end as it showed Karen's death scene.

Karen Silkwood is a metallurgy worker, refining plutonium in a large chemical factory in Oklahoma with her friends (many of her friends are employed by the factory). The only one she doesn't get along with is Winston, the known creep who is always trying to get it on with the female workers. She shares a small house with her boyfriend Drew and a lesbian woman named Dolly, both of whom are her best friends; they even go with her when she drives out to the oil fields of Texas to see her estranged kids.

One day Karen begins to pull together her memories of disturbing sightings at the plant, such as a radioactive truck being cut up with welding tools to be buried, and her friend Velma being hosed and scrubbed down naked after being contaminated. Karen soon finds herself involved in some serious activism and dangerous work, and just as she is about to blow the whistle she is killed. No one knows if it was an accident or a murder.

Silkwood was based on a true story, a cold case that happened in 1983, forcing the shut-down of the sketchy factory. The movie accurately depicts the events and inspired several scenes in the Sysco book series as well as an episode of Cold Case titled Breaking News.
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Amazing grace of 2 women: Silkwood and Streep
sherineyousery22 June 2014
What does your own hero look like ?

How do you judge people ?

When should you let go ? And when should you stick around ?

With "amazing grace", the beautiful Meryl Streep and Karen Silkwood have both tried to answer our questions. This wonderful movie wasn't about Silkwood's bravery in demanding people's absolutely basic rights only.

Most of people judge others by their own definition of "honour". You tell a friend about how this woman sleeps with everyone and the word goes on about how this promiscuous woman is a devil. This portrayal of Karen Silkwood will definitely conquer your image and your ways of judgment. As you can see her life ends, you'll know what really matters in life and what real honour looks like. You'll know that each one of us has their own demons, and some more than others, maybe for the bigger part, because they've witnessed what the rest didn't in their lives. You can never judge this woman saying she left her children when she's fighting for the framed pictures they're taking from her as they've found her house's contaminated, you can never judge her emotional and sexual behaviour when you see the look - to Drew- in her eyes before she dies and you can never judge the quality of her life given her psychological disturbance. This beautiful woman fought for what really matters in this life: end of fear .. end of blackmail for money and food. She's a hero by all means, defying all sorts of authorities with absolutely no support most of the time. You can see the struggles of being with someone who wouldn't save the world like you're trying to, but turns out to love you as you are with all your demons.

The real lesson for most people in this movie was about bravery and courage, but for me, it was mostly about acceptance, judgment and what really matters in this life.I can't thank Meryl Streep, Cher, Kurt Russel and Director Mike Nichols enough for this masterpiece, especially the ever-amazing and graceful, Mrs Streep .. You've taught me more than I've ever learnt from anybody in my own life.
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