Cinemalphabet: A is for Absence of Malice (1981)
Sydney Pollack’s stylish old fashion thriller poses a provocative, if not dubious question: How far would you bend ethics to get what you want? It’s hardly a new question and the answers offered by Absence of Malice aren’t particularly earth-shattering, It’s all straightforward enough: scrappy investigative reporter (Field) publishes a controversial story implicating a sexy liquor distributor (Newman) in the murder of a union boss. I know right, totally riveting stuff! That said Absence of Malice is one of my absolute favorite Pollack films and definitely one of my favorite Newman performances.
But wait; there’s more. The above mentioned scrappy journalist – for reasons that seem perfectly understandable to me – embarks on a steamy relationship with the sexy liquor distributor. You know, the same one who was the subject of her scathing investigative piece! If you’re expecting some kind of “say something” film about journalism, female empowerment, sexual agency you’ll pickle from disappointment. Pollack is not interesting in offering definitive answers as much as he enjoys posing them. That’s a good thing. It’s what made Three Days of The Condor so brilliant. In addition, Pollack’s penchant for populating his films with very pretty leads doing fantastic work makes Absence of Malice highly entertaining even as find yourself talking greasy to the screen as character after character engages in all manner of trifling, unrealistic, self serving behavior.
Did I mention the terminally dishy Paul Newman plays the liquor distributor?