Absence of Malice (1981) 3.57/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 76.8
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Duration: 116 mins
Director: Sydney Pollack
Stars: Paul Newman, Sally Field, Bob Balaban, Wilford Brimley

A forgotten gem from one of cinema’s greatest eras has Paul Newman starring as the son of a former bootlegger who becomes the target of a campaign orchestrated by the head of a local organised crime task force and the unwitting but uncaring newspaper doing his bidding. Newman is as ever terrific as the shrewd but honest Miami businessman and Sally Field just about manages not to grate as the snooping reporter who initially sets him up but eventually gets involved with him. Bob Balaban does particularly well as the nasty task force chief and brings his usual intense presence to the movie. Wilford Brimely steals his one scene with typical gusto and Josef Sommer also features to good effect. Ultimately though, this film is a triumph of writing and directing. Kurt Luedtke’s clever script is unpredictable and wholly engaging and in a film with no physical action whatsoever Sydney Pollack’s steady hand defies the odds and keeps the story as riveting as any action thriller. In place of physical feats, the drama in Absence of Malice revolves around the intellectual head-to-heads which emerge as the various characters engage in a series mind games (some more sophisticated than others) until only one far superior operator is left standing. And for fans of a good cinematic showdown that’s one moment you won’t want to miss.

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3 thoughts on “Absence of Malice (1981)”

  1. I really like Absence of Malice. The cast does a wonderful job with the possible exception of Sally Field who does grate on me in this. It could also be the ‘I’m a liberated woman of the eighties so I sleep with every man I meet’ mentality that I find so annoying. Paul Newman is great in a low key role as a resourceful guy who never had to use his back alley smarts before. You’re right about Brimley. He steals his scenes and I can’t get the picture of Bob Balaban playing with that elastic band out of my head. I think Melinda Dillon’s performance is worthy of note as well. She plays such a sweet, vulnerable character who ends up in the path of a freight train. Her gut-wrenching scenes are made even sadder by the fact that the entire fiasco is predicated on the lie of an ambitious bureaucrat. I’ll have to watch this movie again.

    1. Hi Kerry. Thanks for the comment. I agree with everything you said including the Sally Field comment 🙂 I keep meaning to add something about Melinda Dillon because as you said she’s fantastic in it as is the thinking behind her character.

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