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Absence Of MaliceUSA 1981
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Running time 116 minutes
Sydney Pollack’s legal-cum-newspaper drama is typical of the era's taste for Issue-driven films such as Sidney Lumet’s Network and The Verdict the latter which also starred Newman. Therein lies its problem, at least in hindsight, for it feels too much like a composite of proven elements taken from similar efforts rather than a film with its own raison d’être.
Sally Field plays an ambitious print journalist who is duped by a dubious Justice Department functionary (Bob Balaban) into publishing a story that implicates booze importer Gallagher (Paul Newman) in the unsolved disappearance of a union leader. This not only slurs Gallagher’s name and threatens his business but has tragic consequence for a female friend who tries to protect him. Taking on the Establishment Gallagher plots his revenge.
Part of the problem with the film is the casting, with Newman, whose career was in a bit of a trough at the time, although as-always charismatic, none too convincing as a blue collar businessman and squeaky-voiced Field even less so as a committed but jaw-droppingly naive journo. Then there is Kurt Luedtke’s over-cooked script which is driven more by its thematic concerns (essentially the rights and responsibilities of the press) rather than by any convincing internal dynamic, Gallagher's revenge coming with surprising ease.
Perhaps Lumet would have given this more bite than Pollack who has a tendency towards the even-handed or depending on your perspective, the middle of the road, which is where pretty much where the film sits, accompanied by Dave Grusin’s Zeitgeist-typical score. Only one scene, with Wilford Brimley as a straight-shootin’, good ol' boy Department of Justice investigator stands out in a competently-made but dramatically bland film.