“Silkwood” is one of those movies that unfolds quietly and steadily, ratcheting up the tension of its central story by focusing its narrative arc on the impact of Karen Silkwood’s moral crusade against a flagrantly immoral, irresponsible plutonium processing plant on her relationships with her friends, family and colleagues. It’s an interesting angle to take because one would expect the screenplay to eviscerate the company through pointed dialogue, but what happens instead is an observation of the casually crushing economic pressures forced onto folks who have little to nothing: Silkwood’s colleagues know their employment may lead to an early, undignified and unnecessary death, but the prospect of losing their paycheck is more of an immediate threat and therefore more important. That emotionally potent undertone extends to almost everything onscreen, in particular the set dressing: All the sets are so vividly lived in that it roots the story in the everyday, which heightens the stakes for the characters because their surroundings are so relatable it’s easy to see one’s self there. Additionally, the entire cast is absolutely sensational, in particular its trio of first-rate leading performances: Meryl Streep taps into Silkwood’s quietly simmering fury at life’s circumstances mixed with a growing awareness of her own hypocrisy and problematic behavior, while Kurt Russell plays her longtime boyfriend with a casual confidence that establishes their dynamics extremely effectively, making them seem like a real-life couple. But the movie ultimately belongs to Cher in an unglamorous, remarkably relaxed performance that downplays her natural charm and heightens her sincerity instead, and she positively disappears in the role.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)