Honest and hard-working Texas rancher Homer Bannon has a conflict with his unscrupulous, selfish, arrogant and egotistical son Hud, who sank into alcoholism after accidentally killing his brother in a car crash.
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.Written by
Megan sends Michael a note containing a spelling error. It reads "Michael: This is tomorrow's page one - just in case you've cancelled your sibscription - I'm happy for you," yet is told she'd make a good editor. However, she isn't being considered as a copy editor (who proofreads written stories from spelling and grammar) but for position of one who assigns stories and makes key judgment calls. See more »
Paul Newman and Sally Field, though somewhat opposites both in their roles as Michael Colin Gallagher and Megan Carter respectively and in real Hollywood life, mesh and make believable lovers. Megan tells Michael that she is 30 something and doesn't need courting to play in the hay. Michael retorts, "Maybe I do," and drives away. Megan winds up somewhat of a failure both as a newspaper hound and as a liberated female. Then along comes Wilford Brimley in a bit part and runs away with the show. That's saying a lot since the well chosen cast gives it all they've got including ace jobs by Bob Balaban and Melinda Dillon.
The essence of the film is "What is the nature of truth?" What we read in the paper ain't necessarily so. Jibes are poked at bureaucrats too who certainly have problems determining what is truth. As long as the paperwork looks good then so goes the world. With the Horatio Alger success formula still around in the world of big government and big business, empire builders are a dime a dozen. Usually their asses are saved by cover ups and fall guys. In "Absence of Malice" the innocent victim outsmarts the bureaucrats and the Fourth Estate to bring the house of cards down, certainly an anomaly in the 21th century as it was in 1981, maybe even more so.
Admittedly, the film becomes too preachy at times which not only grates on the nerves but also slows the picture down. Yet the well-written script and Sydney Pollack's knowing direction keep it from becoming a total disaster. Not on the level of Pollack's previous "Three Days of the Condor" or his next feature "Tootsie," "Absence of Malice" still packs a wallop.
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