Absence of Malice

1981 film by Sydney Pollack

Absence of Malice is a 1981 film about the son of a deceased criminal who awakes one day to find himself a front-page story in the local newspaper, incorrectly indicating that he is being investigated in the murder of a local longshoreman union official.

Directed by Sydney Pollack. Written by Kurt Luedtke.
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? taglines

James A. Wells

  • You had a leak?! You call what's goin' on around here a leak? Boy, the last time there was a leak like this, Noah built hisself a boat.
  • Now we'll talk all day if you want to. But, come sundown, there's gonna be two things true that ain't true now. One is that the United States Department of Justice is goin' to know what in the good Christ - excuse me, Angie - is goin' on around here. And the other's I'm gonna have somebody's ass in my briefcase.
  • [to Megan] I think I know where we're headed here. Before we get there, I want to say something to you. You know and I know that we can't tell you what to print or what not to. We hope the press will act responsibly, but when you don't, there ain't a lot we can do about it. We can't have people go around leaking stuff for their own reasons. It ain't legal. And worse than that, by God it ain't right.

Megan Carter

  • I don't want to go to jail. But this has got to stop someplace. A lot of damage has been done. I'm responsible for a lot of it. I know that. I don't know. I keep thinking there must be some rules to tell me what I'm supposed to do now. But... maybe not. The person who told me about the Quinn investigation was not leaking it. They did not intend for it to be printed. I did that on my own. I'm scared to death of going to jail, but if I tell you, then you'll have to do something about it and someone else will be hurt. It's really very simple. I can hurt someone or not hurt someone. No rules. Just... me. I can't tell you.


Davidek: Have we spoken with Mr. Gallagher?
Megan Carter: We don't call the mafia for comment.
Davidek: Please, make the attempt. If he talks, we'll include his denials to create the appearance of fairness. If he declines to speak, we can hardly be responsible for errors. If we fail to reach him, we've tried.
Megan Carter: What are you telling me?
Davidek: That as a matter of law, the truth is irrelevant. We have no knowledge the story is false, therefore we're absent malice. We've been both reasonable and prudent, therefore we're not negligent. We may say whatever we like about Mr. Gallagher, and he is powerless to do us harm. Democracy is served.

Megan Carter: I'm a reporter! What did you expect? Don't try to make me feel guilty.
Michael Gallagher: You think I had something to do with Diaz?
Megan Carter: It's a distinct possibility. Why are they picking on you?
Michael Gallagher: Where did that story come from? "Knowledgeable sources", you said. Now who is that? Somebody's trying to get to me. Somebody with no face and no name. You're the gofer. You listen to them, you write what they say - and then you help them hide. You say you've got a right to do that. And I got no right to know who they are.
Megan Carter: I'm sorry, Gallagher. I can't help you.

Michael Gallagher: Why aren't you married?
Megan Carter: How do you know I'm not?
Michael Gallagher: I don't see a ring.
Megan Carter: Haven't you heard of women's lib?
Michael Gallagher: Most of them are ugly.
Megan Carter: Is that supposed to be a compliment?

Megan Carter: Michael?
Michael Gallagher: You don't wanna come in here. I'm warning you.
Megan Carter: Michael, if I could just talk to you...
Michael Gallagher: Shut up! I don't want to hear it, I don't want to hear any of it! What the hell are you doing here? Details? Is that what you want? They found her naked in a tub. She didn't even want to make a mess! No water, just naked. Are you interested? You interested?
Megan Carter: Yes.
Michael Gallagher: She picked up a newspaper, for Christ's sake! And there it is, for everybody to see! She must have felt like ... [rips open her shirt] - just raped!
Megan Carter: Stop! Michael!
Michael Gallagher: She must have...
Megan Carter: Stop!
Michael Gallagher: You know something? When you kill yourself, it's a homicide, so they do an autopsy. They'll get a knife. They start here. They're gonna split her open. Up here they use shears. Shears, for Christ's sake! Oh, goddamn you!

Megan Carter: I am free every night this week but Friday.
Michael Gallagher: How about Friday?
Megan Carter: Okay!

Megan Carter: Would you tell me the truth, Michael? I'd just please like to know the truth.
Michael Gallagher: Tell you or the whole world?
Megan Carter: The truth is the truth.
Michael Gallagher: No. You wanna know the truth? Ask me as a person, I'll tell you. Ask me as a reporter, I got no comment.
Megan Carter: That's not fair.
Michael Gallagher: Not fair to whom? Wait a minute! You don't write the truth. You write what people say. What you overhear, you eavesdrop. You don't come across truth that easy. Maybe it's just what you think, what you feel. I don't need your goddamn newspaper to decide what they're gonna do with me. Or who I am.
Megan Carter: Then you tell me: Who are you?
Michael Gallagher: You mean you're not sure yet?
Megan Carter: No.
Michael Gallagher: Well... I guess you'll just have to decide for yourself. Who I am and what you are.

James J. Wells: Tell you what we're gonna do. We're gonna sit right here and talk about it. Now if you get tired of talking here, Mr. Marshal Elving Patrick there will hand you one of them subpoenas he's got stuck down in his pocket and we'll go downstairs and talk in front of the grand jury... Elliot? Jim?... Fine. All right, Elving, hand whichever one of these fellas you like a subpoena and we'll go on downstairs and talk in front of the grand jury.
Quinn: Gallagher's a government witness.
James A. Wells: Wonderful thing, a subpoena.

James A. Wells: Mr Gallagher...I seem to want to ask if you set all this up. If I do, you ain't gonna tell me, are you? No. You're a smart man, Mr. Gallagher. I'm pretty smart myself. Don't get too smart.
Michael Gallagher: Everybody in this room is smart, and everybody was just doing their job, and Teresa Perrone is dead. Who do I see about that?
James A. Wells: Ain't nobody to see. I wish there was. You're excused now, sir.

James A. Wells: What'd you figure you'd do after government service, Elliott?
Elliott Rosen: I'm not quitting.
James A. Wells: You ain't no Presidential appointee, Elliott. One that hired you is me. You got thirty days.

Megan Carter: Well, you got us all, didn't you Michael?
Michael Gallagher: [shaking his head] You got yourselves.

Sarah Wylie: I need to know how to describe your relationship with Gallagher. Mac said to quote you directly. You can say whatever you want.
Megan Carter: Just... say we were involved.
Sarah Wylie: That's true, isn't it?
Megan Carter: No. But it's accurate.


  • 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 D.A., Feds and the police set her up to write the story that explodes his world. Now he's going to write the book on getting even.
  • In America, can a man be guilty until proven innocent?


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