China Syndrome, The (1979)

“There is no conspiracy, there is no cover-up.”

A TV journalist (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman (Michael Douglas) discover that all is not well at a local nuclear power plant. While it’s clear the plant supervisor (Jack Lemmon) is alarmed by an accident that’s taken place, he’s hesitant to speak out given warnings by his boss (Scott Brady) — but Fonda and Douglas are determined to unearth and expose the truth.


Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “cautionary film about the possibilities of a meltdown at a nuclear plant” — featuring “sharp direction by James Bridges” — “achieved tremendous box office success not only because of its quality and the integrity of the filmmakera and stars, but also because the accident at Three Mile Island happened just when the picture was released”. Peary argues that “Lemmon’s performance is too mannered, and [the] film’s ending (outside the plant) doesn’t have Fonda or anyone else making the necessary strong statements (it’s as if the filmmakers backed off)” — both opinions I disagree with. Lemmon’s performance is as strong as ever, fully grounding his “side” of the story, and I find the ending eerily opaque. Peary does write that “otherwise this is a sold film, proof you can make an exciting movie that has political relevance” — though he once again quibbles that “it would have made a stronger antinuclear statement if the plant were unsafe despite meeting NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] standards”. He adds that “Fonda has one of her best roles, another of her smart but naive women who break out of a secure world and risk looking foolish to learn what’s going on.” I also appreciate Douglas’s small but vital role as a determined videographer who secretly films the nuclear plant accident despite being told not to (his actions remind one of modern-day phone-cam users recording pivotal interactions on the sly), and who will stop at nothing to make the evidence available.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jane Fonda as Kimberly Wells
  • Michael Douglas as Richard Adams
  • Jack Lemmon as Jack Godell

Must See?
Yes, as a still-compelling story and for the fine performances.



One Response to “China Syndrome, The (1979)”

  1. A classic conspiracy, paranoia thriller. Brilliant in all departments and a no-brainer must see.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.