Absence of Malice [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (5th May 2021).
The Film

"Absence of Malice" (1981)

Megan Carter (played by Sally Field) is a journalist that writes a story about the murder of Joey Diaz, a local union official and includes the name of Michael Gallagher (played by Paul Newman) as one of the suspects. Gallagher directly confronts the story by going directly to the newspaper's offices to talk to Carter, saying that what they printed was false and they had no right to place his face on the case without clear evidence. Carter does not want to mention the source of her findings, and things turn ugly for Gallagher whose trust and credentials have been tainted.

"In America, can a man be guilty until proven innocent? That is the tagline for "Absence of Malice", and is something that the power of mass media could do and has done on countless occasions over the years. Reporting the news as quickly as possible has sometimes led to wrong information being stated and things have only escalated further in the days of the 24 hour news cycle and even more in the time of social media. In addition there is the take on sensationalism, with writing and reporting becoming more like a dramatic unfolding of events rather than simple stating of facts. News organizations are supposed to report without bias, but it is also a business that must entice viewers, readers, and listeners to want to stick to their outlets and not get swayed elsewhere. Screenwriter Kurt Leudtke knew very well about the sly business of journalism as he was a journalist himself for decades in Detroit and Miami. In 1978 he moved to Hollywood as a screenwriter, and his first project was "Absence of Malice" which was an insider's look at newspaper reporting and the consequences of a journalist's integrity and morals affecting more than just a career. "All the President's Men" in 1976 showed some of the dangers that journalists had to face to uncover the truth. There was moral ground covered as well, showcasing some of the tiptoeing on fine lines they had to do to get the information that was necessary, sometimes forcefully. "Absence of Malice" also runs on the same ground, but there are key differences as well, especially with the audience seeing more of the reported rather than just the reporters.

Megan is an ambitious character, as she tries to move up the ladder as a journalist and compete in a predominantly male dominated workforce. She puts career first more than her personal life, as others around her may question why she is single in her thirties. The character could have easily been written as a male instead to make things easier, but having the main character as a female shows both the struggles she faces for recognition as well as her vulnerability seen later when she is confronted by Gallagher. On the other hand, it's interesting how much the audience is shown who Gallagher is and how much is being held back. Though his father had criminal connections, Gallagher claims his innocence and much is put forth with the good he has done, by leading a straight life doing honest work. An interesting character that gets swept up in the case is Teresa Perrone (played by Melinda Dillon), a chainsmoker working at a Catholic school who will do anything to help prove Gallagher's innocence. A lifelong friend of his, their relationship might raise a few eyebrows at first but the truth is much more sympathetic than appears. Each of the main characters are very well written and their interactions in between are very well performed by the actors in tense environments, sometimes becoming much more physical with anger, while others being much more restrained and civil, as if they were playing each other to trick the other for information. Leudtke may have proven himself as a reporter for many years, but in "Absence of Malice" he was able to put life into what could have been simple two dimensional characters. One of the most memorable characters and performances in the film is Assistant US Attorney General Wells, played by the legendary Wilford Brimley in one brief scene. Pollack worked with Brimley on his previous film "The Electric Horseman" where he was a horse wrangler and received a small role. Impressed with his natural presence, he cast Brimley in a last minute casting of the attorney general, which was questioned by Newman as he felt an actor with more recognition and gravitas would bring more emphasis to the pivotal scene. But once filming commenced, Newman stated he was astounded to see Brimley play the part and take control with ease and with power through his mannerisms and cadence. Viewers now might see that sequence and think of it as a cameo appearance rather than a small part by a newcomer, as Brimley became one of the most recognizable faces in cinema and television from thereon out.

Originally a project with George Roy Hill attached as director, the project took a few years to come to fruition, with Sydney Pollack becoming the replacement director. Pollack came from acting, and as his many films as director have shown, he has an eye for performance rather than spectacle, and "Absence of Malice" is no different. He gives enough time for the performers to give life to the characters and the plot to move forward, not relying on heavy visual cues or camerawork to move things forward. Shot entirely in Miami, the interiors of the fictional Miami Standard were filmed in the offices of the Miami Herald, where Luedtke once worked. One of the more questionable aspects of the film and one that seems to possibly drag things down is the sexual attraction between Gallagher and Megan, not because of their age difference but with Megan sacrificing her integrity as a journalist by getting much too close to the person she is reporting on. But it is a plot device to move things in an emotional direction, and is fitting with her character suddenly finding something she was lacking in her life. Emotions are more complex than morals, and they are brought to the forefront with her character during the story. "Absence of Malice" was released on December 18th, 1981 in the United States by Columbia Pictures, and was very well praised as well as becoming a box office hit, with a gross of over $40 million. The film was nominated for two Golden Globes, with Best Actress and Best Screenplay, and three Oscar nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay. While it went home empty handed, the film had a long life with television broadcasts and rentals over the years. In the early 2000s, Columbia Tristar released the film on DVD, and in 2011 it made its HD debut on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment in the US. A decade later, Umbrella Entertainment in Australia has released their own Blu-ray edition.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer seems identical to the HD master used by Image Entertainment for their Blu-ray release from a decade ago. The transfer may be dated, but it is in fact quite good. It is not a flashy film, with a natural color palate throughout with decor and wardrobe. Film grain is always visible, colors are stable, and there is little if any damage such as speckles or scratches to be found in the frame. There is little fault with the transfer itself here.

The film's runtime is 116:12.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
The original mono track is presented lossless. It is a dialogue heavy film and everything comes in clearly with the audio transfer. There is no issue with hiss, pops, or other damage, and the music and effects also sound well balanced throughout. As flat as it may sound, it is natural and sounds great.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font.

Extras

Deleted Scene (1:02)
Presented here is "Scene 40", in which Gallagher has an argument at the bank. Though the scene was cut, parts of it can be seen in the theatrical trailer. There are some film scratches visible as well as some analogue artifacts as it comes from a tape master rather than a transfer from the original film element. This was previously available on some Columbia Tristar DVD releases and on the US Image Entertainment Blu-ray.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"The Story Behind Absence of Malice" documentary (31:04)
In this 2001 documentary directed by Charles Kiselyak, many of the key cast and crew are interviewed about the making of the film, including Newman, Leudtke, Pollack, and Field. Discussed are about the writing, the characters, the performances, the physical scenes, the casting of relative unknown Wilford Brimley in a small part that blew everyone away, and more. The image for some reason is slightly stretched, causing everyone to look a little fatter than they should. This documentary was originally on some Columbia Tristar DVD releases and on the US Image Entertainment Blu-ray.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.90:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Theatrical Trailer (2:03)
The original trailer is presented here. This was originally on some Columbia Tristar DVD releases and on the US Image Entertainment Blu-ray.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles


All the extras from the international Columbia Tristar DVD releases were ported to the US Image Entertainment Blu-ray from 2011. Umbrella Entertainment has ported all the existing extras, without adding any exclusives. While the above extras are good, there could have been more with a commentary or some interviews about the legal process, the newspaper business in detail, etc.

Embedded below is the trailer for the film with an introduction and commentary by Larry Karaszewski from "Trailers from Hell".

Packaging

The artwork is reversible, with the only difference being the reverse side removing the Australian PG rating logo.
The packaging states region B only but the disc is in fact region All.

Overall

"Absence of Malice" has many excellent performances from the leads and the supports for an excellent drama that is tense as it is dramatic. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray features a nice transfer for audio and video, with all the extras from the DVD releases ported over. Recommended.

The Blu-ray is available at various retailers as well as through Umbrella Entertainment directly.

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: A-

 


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