Absence of Malice is the flipside of All The President’s Men, a splendidly disturbing look at the power of sloppy reporting to inflict harm on the innocent.
Tackling a long-standing public issue that has no resolution, producer-director Sydney Pollack neatly keeps all the points in focus while sustaining traditional entertainment values. This is, quite simply, a whale of a good story with something important to say. For that, much of the credit undoubtedly should go to writer Kurt Luedtke, a veteran newsman himself.
More typical of her trade than a Woodward or Bernstein, Sally Field is a workaday reporter on a Miami paper, trying to stay on top of a breaking story about the mysterious disappearance of a local longshore labor leader.
Paul Newman is the son of a mobster whose late father kept him straight and out of the rackets, running a legitimate business. But he still has unsavory family ties, particularly uncle Luther Adler, and Bob Balaban the head of a federal task force investigating the case, believes a little pressure on Newman might force his help in solving the disappearance.
Though Newman has no connection with a crime, Balaban suckers Field into printing a story identifying him – with editor Josef Sommer’s zealous encouragement – as a prime suspect.
Not surprisingly, the story produces tragedy, finally shaking Field’s faith in her calling. It also outrages Newman and his grievous, angry confrontation with Field may be the best single scene the actor has ever performed.
1981: Nominations: Best Actor (Paul Newman), Supp. Actress (Melinda Dillon), Original Screenplay