These days, Jane Fonda is guest-starring in the Ned Beatty role as the scary CEO who means to crush the upstart underlings of CAN’s unorthodox newscast on The Newsroom, but 34 years ago, she was the fluffy reporter-turned-firebrand. In The China Syndrome, she’s Kimberly Wells, a correspondent known more for her fabulous hair than her news chops, but she and her requisite shaggy-maned cameraman (Michael Douglas, long before he, too, became a Master of the Universe) stumble upon the story of their careers when they’re present at a nuclear power plant’s near-meltdown.
But her bosses refuse to air the story, and her soundman is run off the road by corporate goons with a vested interest in covering up the structural defects that led to the accident. Out of desperation, plant whistleblower Jack Lemmon stages a hostage standoff, demanding to have Kimberly interview him on live TV. A SWAT team takes him out, but not before cutting the TV cable to prevent the live broadcast. The movie remains, to this day, a gripping and suspenseful cautionary thriller about nuclear power, but it also finds time to wonder about the human cost of Kimberly’s actions, both her noble ideals and her careerism.
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