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Archive for the ‘DIRECTED BY: Sydney Pollack’ Category

Absence Of Malice

04 Jan

Absence Of Malice – directed by Sydney Pollack. Newsroom Drama. 116 minutes Color 1981.

★★★★★

The Story: The son of a former gangster is exposed in a Miami newspaper as under criminal investigation and tries to learn the truth from the female reporter who printed it.

~

When Mildred Dunnock came home from working with Paul Newman in Sweet Bird Of Youth, she told me “He’s always acting.” I didn’t ask her what she meant by this, though I knew she liked it, but I am going to report what I assumed she meant.

He is always generating.

What that means is that the character he is playing and the scene he is playing and the words he is saying and the attitudes he assumes all arise from a ground of chosen acting energy that you can’t notice, because if you did it would looked acted.

It certainly is true here. Newman’s task as an actor is to create a character who is competent. To do this he hauls liquor cartons, deals with strike breakers, opens fine wine, takes care of a 1943 yacht, serves a picnic on it, and reserves himself sexually by courting. He is always shown in competence-requiring actions. Ordinary everyday competence is the characteristic he must establish, because the finale of the film depends upon unobtrusive competence. You’re never to notice it; that’s how he gets away with it. It is his main character decision in the part, and he is right. Everything I said he does, he does. And as he does them he does them without effort or fear – slowly, carefully, as though he had done them many times before. He never “acts” them. The part of him that acts is another part entirely, and you can’t see it.

For to create this competence, it must spring from a center second nature to him: the thing he gets around in: the inner limousine of the Actor. Which you never see.

Newman’s habit of generating this conscious and constant energy is that of a race driver holding the car in neutral. The problem for Newman is that this tends to slow down momentum and get dull. You can see him practically fall asleep in Buffalo Bill And The Indians and Quintet. (They were Altman films and everyone smoked dope like mad; perhaps that’s what it was.)

Newman is 54 here admitting to 47, and he looks good. He entered films when he was 30, so he always looked younger, and, of course, to the day he left the screen he kept his figure and looked good. I notice when talking to him over the phone that he had most beautiful speaking voice. People talk about his looks, figure, blue eyes, but an actor’s best tool is his voice, and he had a great one. Check it out.

The ever-fretful Sally Field, a top notch actor, plays the reporter, who takes upon herself to write stories that cause a great deal of harm. To me it seemed the character was not authorized to write any of them, but the story has them meanly instigated by an assistant D.A., beautifully played by Bob Balaban. Wilford Brimley enters in to wrap-up the story and rap knuckles. It’s good to see Luther Adler as a Godfather in his last film role. Melinda Dillon plays the unbalanced friend of Newman so well that you think Dillon herself is unbalanced. But the film is not about acting but about an ethical crime.

I liked the film. I went with its pace, as it took its time to move through the examination of its subject dramatically, carefully, and fairly. Journalism put on the hot seat. Good.

 
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Posted in Bob Balaban, DIRECTED BY: Sydney Pollack, Paul Scofield, PERSONAL DRAMA, Sally Field

 
 
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