Absence of Malice

Kind of an anti-All the President’s Men.  Shows the awesome power of the press (circa 1981, anyway) and its tendency to be used, abused and manipulated by crooks, politicians and angry lovers.  Paging Judith Miller.

Two-time Oscar-winner Sally Field tries really hard to work up a head of steam as a bitter, cynical, seen-it-all reporter.  Unfortunately, she’s in way over her head, and comes off as twitchy, flinty, whingeing and earnest.

Otherwise, the acting in this picture is rather stunning.  Bob Balaban is worth the rental fee all by himself as a pissed-off, pint-size, gum-snapping D of J tough guy, and Don Hood is conflicted and palpable as an equivocating DA.  Current President (in X-Men world) Josef Sommer is impressive as Sally’s sadder-but-wiser editor and Wilfred Brimley strolls in and blows everybody out of the water as some kind of governmental authority guy.  One tends to forget that before Brimley turned to pitching oatmeal, he played fusty, angry middle-aged men better than just about anybody.

Paul Newman plays a wholesale liquor distributor, an occupation he would re-visit for Martin Scorsese five years into the future, apparently feeling that he had not yet fully illuminated the life of the American wholesale liquor distributor, his triumphs and tears, his loves and losses.

Sydney Pollack, surely one of our most accomplished directors, has an uncanny knack for bringing detailed naturalism and compassionate humanity to the most unlikely of scenarios.  Strangely, he also has a knack for Ew!-inducing clinches.  In 3 Days of the Condor, he has Faye Dunaway give herself to Robert Redford, a man she met a few hours earlier, and who had recently gagged her and bound her to a pipe by her own pantyhose.  Here, Paul Newman and Sally Field drink and laugh and tumble into bed, despite the fact that they are bitter enemies in a life-or-death press war.  Many years later, Harrison Ford and Kristen-Scott Thompson would furiously paw at each other in the front seat of a sedan in Random Hearts.  I welcome any other observation of the phenomenon I will now refer to as The Pollack Clinch. 

The Way We Were doesn’t count.
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3 Responses to “Absence of Malice”
  1. gazblow says:

    The Pollack Clinch

    I hate to disparage one of my favorite movies, but I saw On The Waterfront again the other day and the longshoremen are meeting with Karl Malden in the church about the corruption in the union. Eva Marie Saint is there with her father because her brother had just been killed for ‘ratting’. Brando is at this meeting, to the consternation of all the other attendees seeing as his brother Rod Steiger is one of the head bad guys. Suddenly, the meeting is attacked by mobster union guys. As the rest of the longshoremen scatter, Brando grabs Eva Marie by the arm and takes her up the stairs, instead of down with the others. In this moment of terrifying crisis, why the hell would she trust one of the guys who killed her brother (all she knows about Brando, we find out later, is that he was always in trouble as a kid) instead of following her loving father? Answer: The Pollack Clinch (predating Pollack even! Shall we rename it Kazan’s Klinch or Schulberg’s Squeeze?)

    • Todd says:

      Re: The Pollack Clinch

      I met Schulberg’s Squeeze at an industry function the other day. Maybe she was good-looking once, but the years have been hard on her.

  2. urbaniak says:

    In “Tootsie” Teri Garr walks in on platonic friend Dustin Hoffman when he is half-undressed after removing his Dorothy Michaels costume. Unable to reveal the real reason that his pants are half-off, he declares his desire for Teri Garr and they sleep together. Clinch by necessity.