[Last Film I Saw] The China Syndrome (1979)

the China Syndrome poster

Title: The China Syndrome
Year: 1979
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: James Bridges
Writers:
Mike Gray
T.S. Cook
James Bridges
Cinematography: James Crabe
Cast:
Jack Lemmon
Jane Fonda
Michael Douglas
Scott Brady
James Hampton
Peter Donat
Richard Herd
Wilford Brimley
James Karen
Daniel Valdez
Stan Bohrman
Rating: 7.8/10

The China Syndrome 1979

First of all, this film is irrelevant to China, THE CHINA SYNDROME is a technical term of a fictional nuclear reactor operations accident, its definition is here. Gathering Lemmon, Fonda and Douglas (as the producer took on the role when Richard Dreyfuss dropped out at the last minute), three big names carry on this nuke crisis thriller, which graphically covers a nuclear accident from both the news media (Fonda, an ambitious anchorwoman and her hothead cameraman Douglas) and a conscientious insider of the plant, Lemmon the shift supervisor.

While a disputable debate on nuclear technology preponderates most of the receptions, if one thinks a bit deeper, it is not a film deliberately provokes its viewers to be aware of the instability of nuke per se, the real culprit is a malfunctioned organization under loose management and its money-seeking honchos’ myopia in neglecting a potential and fatal glitch and preferring bankrolls to its social responsibility for the public’s safety, nuke is not the reason why the tragedy happens, it only serves as an agency to trigger the chain reaction, if every and each one does their adequate job, the entire system should function faultlessly as it claims.

It is not a movie with a conventional happy ending – a lone guy with rectitude fights against the merciless enterprise finally grants a victory against all odds, or a fearless journalist pursues a scoop which divulges a cover-up and prevails the justice. It settles on a more shocking alternative for the good guy here, and the ultimate confessions in front of the camera (both Fonda and Brimley) justify what a man-made debacle it is, if only there was some humanity and understanding there to avert the mess.

Lemmon edges out his co-stars by a mile in here, he depicts a man with a lucid mind to detect an impending bug in the nuclear plant where he devotes his whole life, and simply magnificent when he is put under severe distress and evokes bounteous sympathy from audiences. Fonda (red-hot after winning her second Oscar for COMING HOME 1978) by comparison doesn’t offer much to showcase until the very end, still a pretty competent performance and her tortoise steals some thunder as well. Out of all the supporting actors, Wilford Brimley should be merited for his unassuming but naturalistic rendition of a much more complicated character than he appears.

THE CHINA SYNDROME is a score-free venture which is surprisingly pertinent to the present climate, it has a powerhouse performance from Lemmon and continues to flare up as an enthralling cautionary tale.

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