Rating: The Good – 76.8 Genre: Thriller Duration: 122 mins Director: James Bridges Stars: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas
One of the great 70’s thrillers, The China Syndrome tells the story of a female reporter Kimberley Wells (Jane Fonda) struggling to gain the credit she deserves in a male dominated profession and who comes to believe that a local nuclear power plant is unsafe. Jack Lemmon (in an excellent performance) plays the nuclear engineer who himself is struggling to convince the bean-counters upstairs to shut the plant down until a costly inspection can be completed. Michael Douglas (who also produced the film) completes an impressive roster of actors and puts in a strong and charismatic supporting turn as Wells’ cameraman. However, The China Syndrome has much more than just a great cast going for it. With its “lone fighter against the shady superiors” theme, it has all the paranoid intrigue of the great thrillers from its era and combined with a taut script, it remains to this day a fascinating and compelling watch – especially so when one considers that the film was released three weeks before the real-life nuclear disaster at Three-Mile Island! And as if all this wasn’t enough, director James Bridges and writers Mike Gray and T.S. Cook round off this little gem by using the proceedings to make some clever observations about the then gender divide in the television industry – which may still have some relevance to this day.
Rating: The Good – 70.1 Genre: Comedy Duration: 95mins Director: Ted Kotcheff Stars: Jane Fonda, George Segal, Ed McMahon
The original and best Fun with Dick and Jane sees Jane Fonda and George Segal turning to a life of crime in order to pay the bills once Segal has been let go from his lucrative job in aerospace. This is an exceedingly funny and charming caper movie defined by some top-notch chemistry between the two leads, a general sense of fun, and some fantastically conceived set-pieces. Whether it be the couple’s first attempts at robbing a liquor store or the later chase sequence involving a faith healer and his loudspeaker equipped van, this movie will have you laughing some good old fashioned honest laughs. Ted Kotcheff is a dab-hand at the comedy vehicle and it’s his soft touch that allows this one to so effortlessly grab a hold of you. That said, David Giler, Jerry Belson, and Mordecai Richler’s witty screenplay made it a lot easier for him.
Alan J. Pakula’s first installment in his seminal 1970′s paranoia trilogy is a mesmerising exploration of power and control in the seedy underbelly of New York. Donald Sutherland plays Klute, one of cinema’s more ambiguous characters who is charged with locating a friend and wealthy corporate executive who has disappeared without a trace save some lurid letters which he may or may not have written to a New York prostitute.
Jane Fonda appears quite inspired in the role of the high class prostitute who avoids her insecurities by embracing her professional persona through which she becomes expertly adept at manipulating the men in her life. It’s a complex performance in which she strikes a subtle but believable balance between confidence, harshness, and vulnerability. However, good as she is, she is arguably outdone by Donald Sutherland’s finest ever turn as the inscrutable small town detective. At times, Klute appears lost in the big city and prey for anyone with an edge but at other times that ‘s turned on its head as he takes on a strength which destabilises and confuses those who were previously laughing at him along with the audience. This clever device could’ve been completely lost in the hands of a lesser actor so it’s to Sutherland’s eternal credit that he pulls it off. What’s more, the secret seems to lie entirely in a clear and robust conception of his character for the manner in which Sutherland uses his eyes when showing both sides to Klute’s persona convinces the audience this is genuine personal complexity we are witnessing rather than merely conflicted writing.
Klute is a very dark movie which feels more like a European film from that time thanks to the manner in which it’s structured and shot. Full of hard to make out images and psyche tapping sounds and music, Pakula scintillates us from reel one until the close and keeps us immersed in a murky world of contradiction and anxiety. There are few answers and it is very much left up to ourselves to decide where the characters end up. That of course, is the true strength to this fascinating piece of cinema and the performances which lie at its core.