A reporter stumbles onto a cover-up of
safety hazards at a nuclear power plant.
The China Syndrome (1979)
Directed by James Bridges
Written by James Bridges, T.S. Cook, Mike Gray
Starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, Scott Brady, James Hampton, Peter Donat, Richard Herd, Wilford Brimley
Oscar Nominations - Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress
(Jane Fonda), Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction
Our Oscar Sunday show covered the 52nd Academy Awards on episode 25, because the main film we talked about was Kramer vs. Kramer. Connor and I took it upon ourselves to dive into 1979 by watching all of the Best Picture nominees. That means I missed The China Syndrome, but it certainly has an argument for being in that group of five nominees. I have been watching Jane Fonda performances in my spare time, so The China Syndrome seemed like a no brainer with that context and the 1979 context I already have.
Jane Fonda stars as Kimberley Wells, a news reporter looking for a big story with her cameraman, Richard (Douglas). They get exactly what they want and more when they visit a nuclear power plant that experiences a sort of vibration while they are there. Richard is told to turn his camera off, but it’s rolling while the supervisor, Jack Godell (Lemmon) and his men scramble to figure out what caused the vibration. It sets off a whole series of events as the power plant simply can’t let the info get out to the public.
I was pretty much floored by Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon in The China Syndrome. It’s two accolade-worthy performances inside of one film that highlights so many great things about 70’s cinema. I thoroughly enjoy the paranoia that was captured during that decade with technology changing rapidly. What’s great about it is that it feels totally foreign now. No cell phones, you have to be there in person to figure out who’s doing what. Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon both have an intense awareness for that FOMO feeling which can be so effective on screen. The China Syndrome gives us that mental game while also giving us shit like Jack Lemmon featuring prominently in a car chase scene. I’m most certainly going to find this noise on DVD.