Movie: Absence of Malice
Nominations:Best Actor - Paul Newman, Best Supporting Actress - Melinda Dillon, Best Original Screenplay - Kurt Luedtke
Wins/Snubs: Henry Fonda won for On Golden Pond, but this is hardly Newman's finest work - ALL of that went unrewarded (and by finest, I mean when he was young and hot - he was ALWAYS a good actor). Maureen Stapleton won for Reds, and Chariots of Fire won screenplay
The concept for this movie is actually better than the execution, but it'll take me a while to figure out why. The tagline for this movie describes what they were going for: "Suppose you picked up this morning's newspaper and your life was a front page headline... And everything they said was accurate... But none of it was true." The title comes into play next - the law says that with an absence of malice, you can't prove libel, so the newspaper (or I suppose blog) is in the clear. I love this concept, but the execution doesn't quite live up to that idea.
Megan (Sally Field) is a reporter in Miami. She is talking to an assistant DA (a very devious, young Bob Balaban) and sees a report on his desk that suggests a man named Gallagher (Newman) might be responsible for the local union boss' death. She publishes that information, and Gallagher's life starts to unravel. Nothing she publishes isn't true - he is the son of a former suspected mob boss, he does own a liquor warehouse, and the DA does consider him a person of interest. Gallagher is pissed and goes to try to get it retracted and find out why he might be a suspect. He contacts the department of justice's organized crime division to try to become an informant. Since they know his family connections run deep, they cooperate with him and get his name cleared. However, Megan's been digging into the story too and finds Gallagher's alibi - a friend he was taking to get an abortion (Melinda Dillon). She can't be an alibi because it's 1981 and getting a legal abortion was less than 10 years old, so she really doesn't want anyone to know. Fearing what will happen, she commits suicide, causing Gallagher to want revenge for the series of events that led to her death.
Dillon is very convincing, though I had to go back and figure out why she'd killed herself because in 30 years an abortion becoming public seems to have become a minor reason to kill yourself. This movie is dated, partly because Sally Field's hair and clothing couldn't be more 80s, but the newspaper business doesn't work quite the same way at all. I would actually like to see this movie remade and I think it could be improved with the right cast and a little revision of the writing. The concept is terrific, so I'm glad it got a nomination for screenplay, but it doesn't come across quite as well as it might.
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