Review- Absence of Malice (1981)

Review- Absence of Malice (1981)

Hooray for IMDB! Here’s Absence of Malice’s storyline-

Mike Gallagher is a Miami liquor wholesaler whose deceased father was a local mobster. The FBI organized crime task force have no evidence that he’s involved with the mob but decide to pressure him into perhaps revealing something – anything – about a murder they’re sure was a mob hit. They let Megan Carter, a naive but well-meaning journalist, know he is being investigated and Gallagher’s name is soon all over the newspaper. Gallagher has an iron-clad alibi for when the murder occurred but won’t reveal it to protect his fragile friend Teresa. When Carter publishes her story, tragedy ensues. Needing to make amends, Carter tells Gallagher the source of the first story about him and he sets out to teach the FBI and the Federal Attorney a lesson.

I remember Absence of Malice being on the video shelves in the 80s and probably didn’t rent it because

  1. It wasn’t a horror film
  2. It seemed to be mainly just people talking
  3. It seemed very ‘adult’ (i.e. boring)
  4. It wasn’t The Beast Within


Now that I’m much older I’m somewhat prone to films that involve people talking (although horror is still my ‘go to’ genre and The Beast Within is high art) I thought I’d check out Absence of Malice to see if it was any good. And it was. Great performances all round but particularly from Paul Newman, Sally Field and Melinda Dillon. Also, I loved the musical score by Dave Grusin.


The direction by Sidney Pollack and cinematography by Owen Roizman are just as fantastic as I thought they would be. Absence of Malice is a brilliant addition to the ‘newsroom drama’ sub-genre and the sets are gorgeously early 80s. The huge open-plan newsroom in a thousand shades of beige, Field’s apartment that is also open-plan, beige and appears to be in the middle of the city (there are the lights of skyscrapers outside her window). ‘How can she afford that amazing apartment on a journalist’s salary?!’ I thought. Only millionaires would be able to afford such a pad these days.

Absence Of Malice - 1981

I also liked how Absence of Malice feels different to other similar dramas. I was trying to think how to describe the feel of the film but Janet Maslin did it brilliantly well already in her New York Times review from when the film was released. She said she liked the ‘quiet gravity’ that the film possessed. And so do I. Absence of Malice feels less urgent than other similar films but it slowly builds up to a very dramatic finale. It also has the power to shock (I’m going to say no more regarding this as I don’t want to ruin any surprises).

An understated joy.

4 stars out of 5