Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: February 14, 1997
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jack N. Green
WRITER: William Goldman
MUSIC: Lennie Niehaus
Based on the 1996 novel by David Baldacci, “Absolute Power” is a decent political thriller about the manipulation of power at the highest level and a father who is trying to reconnect with his daughter. While it may not be Eastwood’s best work as a director, he still does a good job putting the story adapted by William Goldman up on the big screen.
Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) is an expert thief who has been in the game for a long time. While breaking into the house belonging to billionaire Walter Sullivan (E.G. Marshall), Luther witnesses two people enter the room while he hides in a vault with a two-way mirror. One is Christy Sullivan and the other is the President of the United States, Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman).
While in the midst of having sex, things get rough and the President tries to strangle her. When she gets the upper-hand, two secret service agents (Scott Glenn and Dennis Haysbert) storm in and shoot her. After they cover-up the scene of the crime with the help of the President’s chief of staff (Judy Davis), Luther escapes with the murder weapon. Now, Luther must decide if he wants to run or enlist the help of a detective (Ed Harris) assigned to the case and his estranged daughter (Laura Linney).
It’s the story’s “what if” scenario that is the most compelling aspect of the film. What if the President was the main suspect? What would happen if the one that held that knowledge tried to expose the crime?
Luther is portrayed as a good man overall. Sure, he’s a career thief but he doesn’t want to harm anybody. More importantly, he asks himself the most important question that the audience is asking: why didn’t he try to save Christy in the first place when he saw that things were getting ugly? It is this humanity that he shows that helps his daughter, and the audience, join him in his fight.
The only thing unbelievable is the moment in the film where he decides not to run. The reason given is a little too unrealistic but forgivable considering that something had to make him stay behind. However, it would have been better had his guilt over his inaction during the crime made him stay behind besides the one given in the film.
One performance of note is that of Agent Bill Burton, played extremely well by Glenn. His character is more fleshed out than his sinister counterpart. Bill feels guilty that he did not call the police that night. He also has no problem letting his displeasure known to Gloria Russell, the chief of staff. It is hinted that he was a decorated state trooper before joining the service and it is his moral dedication that is in conflict with the actions being done at the White House.
Hackman re-teams with Eastwood for the first time since “Unforgiven”. Unfortunately, his character here is nowhere near as memorable as Little Bill. There is not really that much screen time for his character and it feels like a missed opportunity to analyze this man of power a little deeper. What did he really think of the things that transpired that night? Does he really feel sorry for his actions? The audience does not really know by the end.
What is known is that while “Absolute Power” may not be a perfect film by far, it is a gripping thriller that anyone should give at least one chance.