In ABSOLUTE POWER, master jewel thief Luther Whitney (Clint
Eastwood) is not having a good day. A billionaire has hired a hit man
to kill him, the Secret Service, acting like a third world death squad,
has their own assassin out to murder him, and the local DC police want
to arrest him for burglary and murder.
When his estranged daughter, Kate (Laura Linney), asks him to meet
her, he suspects it's a trap but goes anyway. You see, he is a master
of disguise and figures that he can pull it off. Director Clint
Eastwood is a master as well, and the carefully choreographed sequence
of Luther's converging enemies is the best part of the picture. Even
if the end result is predictable, the elements of his escape are not.
Earlier in the film Luther pulls off a big heist at the four story
mansion of Walter Sullivan (E. G. Marshall). While there, the
President of the United States, Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman), arrive
for a secret tryst with Walter's wife Christy (Melora Hardin). The
president is into sex tinged with violence. When things go awry,
Secret Service agents Bill Burton (Scott Glenn) and Tim Collin (Dennis
Haysbert) murder Christy. The president's Chief of Staff, Gloria
Russell (Judy Davis), decides they will make it look as though a
burglar murdered Christy. Soon the President's people and others are
out to get Luther.
Thrillers like this hinge on the ability of the audience to buy
the story's logic. Even if they have to suspend disbelief some, they
want it to be within some parameters of reason. ABSOLUTE POWER pushes
these limits of credibility. Although there are many of these
implausible events throughout the story, let me just give a couple of
"Your life could be a whole lot simpler if you could learn to
operate a VCR," says bartender Red (Mark Margolis) to his friend
Luther. Since Luther can crack safes and foil sophisticated security
systems, he must smart enough to able to program his own VCR. In this
story Luther suffers from highly selective brilliance.
William Goldman's screenplay, based on David Baldacci's novel,
does not know where to stop. Where along the following continuum does
plausibility go out the window? While in office, a married President:
a) has an affair, b) has multiple affairs, c) has a staff who covers up
his affairs, d) engages in sexual harassment, e) likes violent sex,
f) has a staff who will kill for him, g) has a staff who will cover up
murder, and h) has a staff who will kill even more people for his sake.
I usually stick to reviewing films as written, but I will break
my pattern for this movie. They could have easily made the President's
character more credible. He could have been having a single affair
where something went wrong, and the woman died. The cover-up could
then have started simple but gotten out of hand without the overly
massive and sinister overtones of ABSOLUTE POWER.
Besides the ridiculousness of the plot, some of the acting is
terrible. Embarrassingly bad as the President, Hackman wastes his
great talent on a poorly written character. Judy Davis overacts so
much that her part becomes a parody. She could easily have been
replaced by Martin Short doing his comedic shtick.
Along with the disastrous parts of the film, there are several
promising subplots. Luther and his grown daughter Kate touch our
hearts with the possible reuniting of a dysfunctional family. He tells
sadly her, "You're the only family I have." To which she retorts
bitterly, "Luther, you don't have me."
The best subplot, and regretfully the least developed one, has
Ed Harris as police Detective Seth Frank. Detective Frank cannot
figure out all the inconsistencies in the burglary and murder at
Goldman's. When Detective Frank first confronts Luther about the
crime, Luther tells him he could not have done it since the thief left
by scaling a four story building. "Go down a rope in the middle of
the night?" laughs Luther. "If I could do that, I'd be the star of my
AARP meetings." At the end of the interview, Luther tells him, "I've
got to go have my pacemaker checked, it has been so exciting talking
Some of the acting is exceptional albeit relatively wasted.
Harris, Eastwood, Glenn, and Linney are all wonderful, but as soon
as you get interested in their characters, the script insults your
This frustrating film finally comes to an satisfying ending,
but one that wraps up the loose ends all too neatly.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes