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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Absolution (1978) (Blu-ray)
Absolution (1978) (Blu-ray)
Kino // R // July 5, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted July 5, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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THE FILM:

Sometimes terribly unlikeable characters can sink an entire movie. That almost happens in this long-shelved 1978 drama starring Richard Burton as the icy headmaster at a Catholic school for boys. Anthony Page's film plays like a race to see who is the worst person on screen, Burton's Father Goddard or Dominic Guard's Benjamin "Benjie" Stanfield, a young student who tests Goddard's faith and religious conviction. Absolution has a deeply rooted mean streak, and the lean 95-minute production is not particularly pleasant to watch. Even so, there are several surprises within, and Burton's patronizing religious leader is dragged through the wringer. Page dials up the suspense as the film moves forward, but some of the spiritual backbiting is overwrought. If nothing else, Absolution is an interesting morality play.

Father Goddard is quick to anger and never shies from berating his pupils in front of their peers. He is especially hard on popular trickster Benjie Stanfield, who grows tired of the Father's consistent abuse. Stanfield also bristles at Arthur Dyson (David Bradley), a young classmate who idolizes him and sticks to him like glue. After one particularly tough encounter with Goddard, Stanfield attends confessional and tricks Goddard into thinking he has murdered a local drifter (Billy Connolly). He knows Goddard cannot break his vow of secrecy about material learned in confessional, and uses this to taunt the headmaster. Days later, the drifter does end up dead, which sends Goddard into a panicked fit of rage to figure out what game Stanfield is playing.

As a morality play, Absolution is mostly successful. Goddard and Stanfield are both terrible people, and Dyson is truly annoying. The acting is somewhat overdone, particularly from Burton, who broadcasts his anger and contempt across his face. Stanfield's constant trickery and unending mocking grates on a viewer's nerves, too, and at points I wanted both Stanfield and Goddard to leave the school and never come back. Apparently Burton was not much fun to work with on this film. I can see why, as his young co-stars do an excellent job ruffling his feathers, and the actor's palpable annoyance transcends the character. The confessional dilemma has been handled more skillfully in other films, but there is still a raw moral battle going on here.

Other than an unexpectedly gory murder scene, Absolution mainly deals in raw, uncomfortable tension. It is mostly successful in this department, though the aforementioned unlikeable characters make watching the movie a minor chore. Goddard is trapped under the thumb of several characters, and the film's ending is a sour, if slightly unbelievable, gut-punch. This is certainly not Burton's finest hour, nor is it an especially enjoyable sit. That said, Absolution hints at interesting themes of religious power and secrecy, and is not a completely wasted effort.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

This 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is apparently from a "new 2K HD restoration," but is still not particularly impressive. On the plus side, it's better than the full-frame DVD that is long out of print. However, the entire presentation has a ruddy, worn appearance. Colors are muted and softness is prevalent in many scenes. Several outdoor shots look moderately impressive, with increased fine-object detail and clarity, but indoor scenes have a gauzy, dreary look. Black crush is readily apparent and robs the image of detail. See the dark school uniforms for an example, as they are almost completely devoid of detail and lines. There is moderate print damage in spots, and I noticed telecine wobble at the beginning and end of the reel. Skin tones are fine, the layer of grain seems undisturbed, and color saturation is decent.

SOUND:

The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is problematic. Almost the entire track is marred by hiss and distortion. Yes, you can usually hear the dialogue and score, but the mix is pitchy, scratchy and generally rough around the edges. The elements are likely damaged here, so be prepared to tolerate plenty of distortion throughout the track. No subtitles or alternate mixes are included.

EXTRAS:

The only related extra is the Trailer (3:06/SD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This mean-spirited, ‘70s dramatic thriller stars Richard Burton as a Catholic school headmaster duped into thinking one of his students killed a drifter. Barred from going to the police by his vow to keep confessions confidential, the Father is tormented by the young pupil and his own guilt. Kino's new Blu-ray is likely the best this film has looked at home, so that's a plus. Unfortunately, the transfer is not particularly impressive, and the audio track suffers from hiss and distortion. Rent It.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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