It's refreshing to see a film like Silkwood nowadays. Here's a major studio release, full of giant stars and a prestige director, that's constructed with a levelheaded and honest eye for realism, that steers clear from any empty dramatic sensationalism no matter how emotionally charged its subject matter might be, in order to get to the core of the people it depicts in an intrinsically empathetic manner. Yes folks, let's sit around the campfire and I'll regale you with fantastical tales of old, when the kind of introspective and insightful dramatic filmmaking we now associate with indies used to come from studios.
Mike Nichols was one of the most important directors of his generation. He was a master at crafting stylish, deliciously morbid, brutally honest dark comedies, but he was also a versatile filmmaker able to capture pretty much any genre and narrative necessity you threw at him. Here he presents the real life story of Karen Silkwood (Maryl Streep), who fought against unsafe practices at the plutonium processing plant she worked at, and was rewarded with a controversial auto "accident" that killed her in 1974. It's the age-old American story of the underdog who fights for the well being of the little guy against some form of goliath-like establishment.
Nichols could have easily manufactured an Erin Brockovich-style Oscar-bait inspirational story that would have turned Silkwood into a messiah figure without any imperfections, but he chooses to employ a borderline Italian Neorealist approach here, regardless of the presence of his star-studded cast, examining his subject as a human being who only struggled to survive while doing the right thing. Through Streep's transformative performance, we get an honest portrayal of Silkwood's life and day-to-day struggles outside of the central conflict of the story, which sees her fighting against a system that might have gone to the lengths of killing her in order to shut her up about the nuclear dangers the plutonium plant caused its workers.
Even if this were a slice of life story about these characters, without the involvement of the conspiracy plot, Silkwood would still be a delight to watch thanks to the impressive insight and sympathy that Nichols, Streep, as well as uncharacteristically subtle performances by Cher and Kurt Russell, infuse its every frame. Nichols even underplays moments that would be ripe for sensationalized exploitation. The film's tragic ending is handled in a somber, delicate, and beautiful way. We're so caught up with the straightforward and realistic way Nichols captures these characters, that even the occasional use of a music score takes us out of the moment, reminding us that we're ultimately watching a piece of fiction.
The 1080p transfer is as clean a version of Silkwood you're going to get on home video. Kino is a relatively small distributor, so it's understandable that they didn't put Silkwood through a thorough restoration. However, apart from some minor scratches and dirt here and there, this transfer is fine. The overall look is a bit soft, and I would have liked a sharper transfer. The gray color palette of the film's cinematography is captured well.
We get a DTS-HD 2.0 track. There's no information about this on the package, but my guess is that this is a recreation of the film's original mono mix laid out to the two front speakers. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, since I prefer 1.0 mono transfers, but other than this, this track is fairly clear and has a nice subtle mix. This is a very dialogue heavy film, so you'll be fine watching it through regular TV speakers.
Interview with Producer Michael Hausman: This is a candid 20-minute interview where the producer goes into great detail about the production.
We also get 2 Trailers and 6 TV Spots.
With stellar performances and an impressively restrained narrative approach, Silkwood is one of the best films Mike Nichols made in a career full of great work. Highly recommended.