Paul Newman tries to teach the Fourth Estate a needed lesson
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 09/03/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If Woodward & Bernstein brought down the Imperial Presidency of Richard Nixon by exposing Watergate, which is arguably a good thing, then it introduced the era of "Gotcha" journalism. The press in this country is considered the fourth estate and it certainly has started acting like another branch of the government with the key difference that nobody checks or balances it. In "Absence of Malice," Sydney Pollack's indictment of the power of the press in the modern era, one man is given good reason to fight the system.
Michael Colin Gallagher (Paul Newman) is the son of a Mafia boss, long dead, who know owns and runs a liquor warehouse. He knows nothing about anything, but Elliott Rosen (Bob Balaban), the leader of a Justice Department Strike Force who is getting nowhere in southern Florida, leaks a fake story that Gallagher is the subject of an investigation. Smelling blood in the water, reporter Megan Carter (Sally Field) goes after the story that is not really there. Gallagher's life is exposed to the world and as the story that is not there grows it destroys the life of an innocent, Teresa Perrone (Melinda Dillon). At that point Gallagher concocts a plan to bring down everybody, simply by letting them do exactly what they want to do in a nice example of how to give a lot of people enough rope to hang themselves.
Unfortunately there the script requires Newman and Field to go through the motions for one of the more unbelievable romances in movie history, which only gets in the way of the focus of the story. You can never believe that she sees him as anything more than a story any more than you can accept that he is able to look past what she is trying to do to see a woman worth loving. Certainly that set up is not necessary for the powerful scene where Gallagher lays hands on Carter to show her exactly how many damage a human being writing a story on a computer can do to another person. But even then, the script asks us to believe that the spark between these two has not been wholly extinguished, and that is not something I can do.
But "Absence of Malice" is more than saved by the film's final scene where Gallagher's trap succeeds brilliantly and Wilford Brimley shows up as Asst. U.S. Atty. Gen. James A. Wells to put the pieces together and dispense a little judicial justice. Carter does too little too late in terms of trying to do something noble, but we are given to believe that she has learned her lesson, although I would certainly like more evidence than this. But even if she goes straight there are plenty of other reporters willing to play the game knowing that they will rarely be held accountable or have to play for any mistakes that they make. This is a depressing film, not just because it tells a depressing story, but because the grim reality it portrays of how the press functions in this country is distressingly true.
"Absence of Malice" received Oscar nominations for Paul Newman as Best Actor in a Leading Role, although his solid performance is nothing special, and for Melinda Dillon as Best Actress in a Supporting Role as the most memorable character in the film. The scene in which she tries to hide from her family the fact that her name and life are being tossed around on the front page of the newspaper is both chilling and heartbreaking. Kurt Luedtke was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen and except for the unnecessary and problematic romantic subplot there is plenty of gravity to the story and scenes. Watching this movie again makes me think that the time has come for somebody to go after the state of journalism today and use something more pointed that the stiletto Pollack employs in this 1981 film."
Wilford Brimley Steals the Show
Randy Keehn | Williston, ND United States | 05/12/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a good movie with an interesting plot, good acting, decent directing and a politically relevent comment on the excesses of the US Press. Paul Newman gives his standard delivery that garnered him another deserving Best Actor nomination. However, what I come away with each time I see this movie is the short but powerful preformance of Wilford Brimley as the federal Justice Department official who comes in to untangle the confusing trap that Newman set. While the other characters have been playing a game of chess up til now, Brimley has no time for ruses or finess. He bullies, cajoles, and forces his way to the truth in a role that makes everyone else look small in comparison. His dispensing of penalties, options and opinions in the wake of the "tag; you're it" game that everyone else was playing is masterful. It's almost too bad the film didn't end there because the rest is unimpressive in comparison.
What is hard to comprehend is that Wilford Brimley not only didn't get the Best Supporting Actor Oscar; he wasn't even nominated! Oh well, awards don't always go to the most deserving. If you haven't seen "Absence of Malace", watch it the next chance you get. Much of it will impress you and one scene in particular will stay with you long after the others are forgotten."
Good performances...ethics be damned
Steve S. | Roswell, GA USA | 04/18/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The issue of leaking information to the press has been around for years, and this film does its best to illustrate how badly it can backfire when the sources aren't properly checked and re-checked.Having said that, and being a journalist myself, I just want to shoot Sally Field for her gross violations of journalist ethics. Getting involved with the subject? No how, no way. It just isn't done. If you can accept this HUGE leap of journalistic and editorial faith, then the rest of the movie is a breeze.Aside from Newman, I think the best performance in the movie is one of the briefest...Wilford Brimley as the U.S. Attorney who gets to the bottom of the mess. It's just a pleasure to watch him go through the paces of tearing Bob Balaban's little vendetta all to pieces, and to experience his grudging approval to let Newman walk."
It Get's Better With Each Viewing
Ohioscott | Reynoldsburg, OH United States | 05/28/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's hard for me to just toss around 5-star ratings for movies. I think they need to be reserved for something really special. Absence of Malice is a great movie and it deserves a solid 4-stars in my opinion.
There is really no need to rehash some of the other things said in the previous reviews. I certainly agree with all the kudos for Wilford Brimley. His performance became the initial reason why I fell in love with this movie. The repeat viewings have shown me that it is hard to find bad acting in this movie.
You always know that a director has done a great job when he can take characters with limited screen time and still cause us to know what they are feeling and thinking. Pollack does this masterfully with DA Quinn (Hood), Uncle Santos (Adler), and Editor McAdam (Sommer).
I did have 2 problems with the film after the first couple viewings but have since made peace concerning them. First, I really didn't like the Teresa Perrone character played flawlessly by Melinda Dillon. I didn't buy the relationship between her and Gallagher (Newman) but I guess if she had been his sister or his ex-wife then the revenge plot he charted with his uncle would have taken a different course.
I also initially didn't like the casting of Sally Field in the lead. I felt the same way a fews years ago when Meg Ryan tried to pull off Proof Of Life. If you needed cute then Sally Field was your huckleberry but this role needed a little more street cred. The problem I had was who else could you have cast? Streep was even younger then Fields at the time. I'm not a huge Faye Dunaway fan but she probably would have been a better fit. But, I will have to admit that Ms Field never looked better then when she was standing on the dock in the closing scene with Paul Newman.
One last note. I wonder if Bob Balaban, who since has been great in the Christopher Guest trilogy of films and the TV show Seinfeld, kept the rubber band that he kept spinning around in this movie. It was a very effective prop in moving forward his career."
Terrific acting and issues which remain relevant today
Randy Keehn | 05/30/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sally Field is an earnest but ambitious newspaper reporter who skirts the boundaries of journalism ethics - a term not yet regarded as an oxymoron when this movie came out in the early 80s - and Paul Newman is the unfairly indicted son of a south Florida mobster. Field chases her story with unintended tragic consequences and sparks fly between her and Newman, in more ways than one.The real strength of the movie is in the fine acting. Newman and Field are in top form but it is the supporting roles which catch your attention. The then little known character actor Wilford Brimley shows up in the third reel as a down-home U.S. prosecutor and walks off with the movie. "At the end of today two things are gonna be true that ain't true now. One is we're going to know what in the good Christ has been going on down here, and two is I'm going to have somebody's ass in my briefcase." "Wonderful thing, subpeenees." Bob Balaban is also vivid as an overzealous prosecutor whose ruse sets the plot in motion.If you like this one, you may also like "Independence Day." Not the recent studio blockbuster starring Will Smith but a "small" movie from the early 80s featuring tight writing and a terrific ensemble cast, with Kathleen Quinlan and David Keith in the leading parts and Dianne Wiest in an unforgettable supporting role."