Being a one-year-old when 'Absence of Malice' was released, I knew nothing about this film prior to reviewing it. Being a fan of Sydney Pollack's films, I figured I couldn't go wrong - and I was right. Starring Paul Newman and Sally Field, 'Absence of Malice' is a slow drama that exposes the negative aspects of both police work and investigative journalism, exploring the fine line of ethic and morality along the way. Corruption within the police force has always been a problem, but 'Absence of Malice' was released just as journalism was becoming what Paul Newman's deems "reckless," making this powerful exploratory film.
Sally Field plays an up-and-coming news writer for a widely read Miami newspaper. While trying to collect information on the most recent police beats, she's called into the office of a high-up detective. Since he wants the press to spread word about the case he's working on, but isn't allowed to publicly talk about it, he purposefully places the file on his desk and leaves the room so she can "discover it on her own." A leader of a worker's union has been missing for six months. The police believe that the son of a deceased crime boss is responsible (Paul Newman), so the file on the desk is meant to lead her to write a negative story on him. Taking the file as certain truth, she proudly gets her leaked story into the paper, not knowing that she's only just hurt the seemingly innocent man (Newman) who is secretly being investigated.
Trying to clear his name, he agrees to speak with her and tell his side of the story. Being a young, somewhat innocent writer, she ends up caught as a pawn between a suspected killer and manipulative police who simply use her to print what they want her to print. As the story unfolds, not without getting a few lumps and bruises - both literal and metaphorical - she learns what it takes to play in the big leagues.
There is no reason why I should not have heard of or seen 'Absence of Malice' before now. Sure, it's not the most fascinating, intriguing and intense thriller, but it's smart, constantly keeping you guessing, and the performances are fantastic. Newman received an Oscar nomination for his role. This is the type of film that defines an era of specific change in a prominent industry.
'Absence of Malice' definitely has few flaws - like the slow out-of-court testimonial climax that doesn't carry an ounce of intensity and the odd "forbidden" romance that doesn't add much dynamic to the story (if my relationship has as much constant drama from the get-go like theirs does, I would have bailed a long time ago). It's not the most entertaining nor perfect film, but it's a whole lot better than most of the formulaic junk released these days.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Absence of Malice' arrives on a region A BD-25. Instead of being housed in a standard eco-friendly keepcase, it's in a semi-eco-friendly case where sections of the case feature thinner plastic than the rest, but not entirely removed like the more prominent eco-friendly cases. Upon inserting the disc, you're forced to watch a loading screen and an FBI warning, followed by a skippable promo for Image Entertainment and a standard disclaimer.
'Absence of Malice' makes its Blu-ray debut with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio - but it might as well be a DVD because it lacks everything you expect from new Blu-rays. Unlike most new catalog releases, 'Absence of Malice' falls in the same category as the rushed first wave studio releases that were little more than DVDs burned onto BDs.
There are only a few positives that 'Absence of Malice' has going for it: the print used for the transfer is wonderfully clean except for little traces of dirt that show up around the 67-minute mark and there is no DNR, edge enhancement, aliasing, banding, artifacting or noise. So, in what area is it lacking? Definition.
'Absence of Malice' has the look of an aged film. There is almost no detail. The picture is about one hair sharper than the quality of a DVD. Leaves on tress blend into one moving green mass. The same goes for blades of grass and hairs on heads. Facial stubble resembles Fred Flinstone's 5 o'clock shadow - you cannot see a single hair or follicle. Given, the film was shot softly, but details are completely lost.
All colors appear to be muted and blacks, although occasionally rich and dark, mostly come across as obscure shades of gray. Detail is always lost within the black/gray shadows. Had I been reviewing a DVD of the film, I likely wouldn't have seen any difference.
Only one audio option is available for 'Absence of Malice,' a DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo track - that's right, lossless 2-channel audio. But when I checked the on-screen stats of my PS3 during playback, I noticed that it registers as an LPCM track, not HD-MA.
Just like the video quality, the audio quality comes across as dated and '70s-ish (although this is a 1981 film). Don't ever expect those surround and rear speakers to kick in, because this track only rolls out the front channel. My sub-woofer has a light that turns on only when engaged by the audio tracks. During this film, it only turned on for two short scenes - once in a small bar with music and again a few minutes later when a car pulls up in front of a restaurant.
With audio this forward and flat, you might as well turn the sound system off and listen to it through the speakers on your television.
While 'Absence of Malice' is a solid, well-made film that deserves to be seen at least once, this Blu-ray release feels like nothing more than a DVD burned onto a BD-25. While I recommend the film itself, unless you can find this one for dirt cheap, you'd be best served with a rental.