Critics Consensus

Silkwood seethes with real-life rage -- but backs it up with compelling characters and trenchant observations.



Total Count: 29


Audience Score

User Ratings: 9,967
User image

Silkwood Photos

Movie Info

Based on a true story, Silkwood begins and ends with Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) driving along a lonely road in 1974, heading to a meeting with a New York Times reporter to deliver evidence of negligence at the Kerr-McGee Plant in Cimarron, Oklahoma. The balance of the film flashes back to Karen's ribald private life with her lover (Kurt Russell) and her loose-living friends (Cher and Diana Scarwid). This is in contrast to her humdrum job at Kerr-McGee--or it least it was humdrum until Karen and several other employees become contaminated by radiation. The higher-ups want to sweep this incident under the rug, but Karen thinks that something's fishy, and informs the union of that fact. X-rays of the faulty fuel rods and written proof of the inadequate safety measures that caused Karen's illness are tampered with, forcing Karen to conduct her own private investigation. As she gathers evidence, Karen becomes a pariah to her boyfriend because of her obsession. She finally organizes the evidence into a briefcase, and heads off to her meeting with the Times reporter. She never makes it; the "official" report on her fatal auto accident is that Ms. Silkwood had been drinking and was under the influence of tranquilizers. Kerr-McGee was eventually forced to pay the Silkwood family an enormous settlement because of her contamination, but the full facts behind her convenient accident have never been revealed (though the filmmakers clearly indictate whom they hold responsible). Director Mike Nichols and screenwriters Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen surround this true story with a lively, improvisational atmosphere that gets the best out of Streep, Russell, and Cher, while providing perhaps the fullest on-screen realization of Nichols' theater-based techniques of realistic, character-centered, dialogue-driven filmmaking, as well as one of the first movie screenplays from future director Ephron.


Meryl Streep
as Karen Silkwood
Kurt Russell
as Drew Stephens
as Dolly Pelliker
Fred Ward
as Morgan
Ron Silver
as Paul Stone
Charles Hallahan
as Earl Lapin
Josef Sommer
as Max Richter
Sudie Bond
as Thelma Rice
Henderson Forsythe
as Quincy Bissell
E. Katherine Kerr
as Gilda Schultz
Bruce McGill
as Mace Hurley
J.C. Quinn
as Curtis Schultz
M. Emmet Walsh
as Walt Yarborough
Graham Jarvis
as Union Meeting Doctor
Ray Baker
as Pete Dawson
Bill Cobbs
as Man in Lunchroom
Norm Colvin
as Zachary
Kathie Dean
as Stewardess
Gary Grubbs
as Randy Fox
Susan McDaniel
as Karen's Child
Tana Hensley
as Karen's Child
Betty Harper
as May Bissell
Tess Harper
as Linda Dawson
Anthony Heald
as 2nd Union Meeting Doctor
Dan Lindsey
as Man at Fence
John Martin
as Man with Flashlight
Vern Porter
as Bill Charlton
Jim Beaver
as Plant Manager
Don Slaton
as Man in Moonsuit
James Rebhorn
as Los Alamos Doctor
Michael Bond
as Los Alamos Doctor
Tom Stovall
as Los Alamos Doctor
View All

Critic Reviews for Silkwood

All Critics (29) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (23) | Rotten (6)

  • Extraordinary portrayals of everyday people characterize the contribution of director Mike Nichols' talented diverse cast. Once again, Nichols justifies his past plaudits for bringing the best out of his players.

    Nov 23, 2014 | Full Review…
  • The facts it can lay its hands on do not support a politically alarming or dramatically compelling conclusion to the mysteries of this case. Nor do they lead to a very uplifting statement about the motives and character of its central figure.

    Jul 1, 2011 | Full Review…
  • A very fine biographical drama.

    Jul 6, 2010 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Silkwood's "ordinariness" protects her from being labelled a wild-eyed Trot, but that should not be allowed to obscure her courage or the whitewash ladled onto her story after her death.

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…

    John Gill

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Silkwood is the story of an ordinary woman, hard-working and passionate, funny and screwed-up, who made those people mad simply because she told the truth as she saw it and did what she thought was right.

    Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • For most of its running time it is so convincing -- and so sure of itself -- that it seems a particular waste when it goes dangerously wrong.

    May 20, 2003

Audience Reviews for Silkwood

  • Feb 27, 2017
    Some fine performances, but let down by a dour pace and a saggy script.
    Marcus W Super Reviewer
  • Apr 13, 2015
    "Silkwood" may not be particularly suspenseful, but its portrayal of extraordinary bravery from an ordinary woman does leave an impression. Tons of young, budding stars fill out the cast although their full range of skills has yet to develop. That having been said, it's the best bit of acting I can recall seeing from Kurt Russell. Cher's complete lack of glamour or pretense struck me as unusually authentic. It's worth seeing if for no other reason than reminding yourself how little things seem to change over the years.
    Christian C Super Reviewer
  • Mar 20, 2014
    A rather ordinary film that is vaguely similar to the Erin Brockovich tale but not as compelling. Would work better as a doc.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 30, 2011
    Silkwood felt kind of preachy and also hippie at the same time, but Meryl Streep is a pretty magnetic actress, and she pulls us through.
    Jennifer X Super Reviewer

Silkwood Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

News & Features