The China Syndrome

Synopsis: A Powerful Cautionary Thriller About The Dangers Of Nuclear Energy And The Power Of Television News.

In 1979, The China Syndrome was the movie everyone was talking about, thanks to the enormous publicity generated by the real-life Three Mile Island accident that not only mirrored the events depicted in the film but occurred just twelve days after the movie’s release.

The China Syndrome 8.25

While taking a tour of a nuclear power plant for an energy report, a TV reporter and her crew are witness to an accident that they suspect may have been more dangerous than its owners claim. After digging a little deeper, without their station’s approval, they discover a possible conspiracy that throws all their lives in a tailspin.

This is a terrific nail-biter! I had heard about it way back in the day, but never got it until now. Its reputation is well-deserved. It’s not action-oriented (I can’t begin to imagine what Tony Scott would have made of this material! Think ‘The Conversation’ vs. ‘Enemy of the State’ ;), but it holds one’s interest throughout, either by unveiling a new piece of the puzzle or by insinuating danger just enough that one wants to know what will come next.

And it’s got a great cast! Jane Fonda plays a popular TV personality who is more known for her fluffy pieces than serious reporting, but craves for more. She is rock solid, as one might expect. Michael Douglas (who also produced the film!) has a secondary but crucial role as her cameraman. He is very good, if a bit loose. And, finally, Jack Lemmon plays a dedicated employee of the nuclear plant who is at the core of this thriller. He is at his best.

The rest of the supporting cast is all top-notch, and the film is competently put together. The only weak point, in my estimation, is the somewhat sensationalistic ending – not unlike another great late-’70s piece of social commentary, the visionary ‘Network’. But, all in all, this is a very good film.

In the shadows of the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, this is one of those films that everyone should see, or revisit – it’s as topical as ever, even if it’s a little dated.

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