Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Laura Linney, Ed Harris
Because a member of my family said it was. I hadn’t even considered watching Absolute Power except that Max recommended it to me after I watched Dolores Claiborne. Curious, I clicked on the trailer, which ended with this line: “Two men know the truth–one man, a master thief, the other is the most powerful man in the world!”
I laughed pretty hard–so hard, I recounted the story to my uncle. His response? “I’ve seen that movie. It’s actually pretty good. You should watch it sometime…”
He said the magic words! Great…
Since July 4th makes Americans think about our government, this month’s theme is…
The only requirement? A character MUST utter those two words in an urgent tone. (Unfortunately, though many have asked, I have seen Air Force One. Otherwise, it’d be perfect.)
I was specifically interested in Absolute Power because some of Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts during the ’90s were paramount filmmaking. (Okay, he partnered with Warner Bros. Capitalization is important, kids!) A Hitchcock-style wronged-man thriller in Eastwood’s hands must be brilliant, right?
Luther Whitney, a career jewel thief, got a tip on a secret vault in a Washington D.C. billionaire’s home. While raiding the man’s riches, Luther is interrupted by two lovers with surprising identities: the billionaire’s wife and the United States president. As the affair gets rough, Luther’s forced to watch, horrified. Surprisingly, the lady of the house gets the upper hand, but the president calls for help, making her look like the attacker. The secret service enters and shoots her.
Because the chief of staff is blissfully ignorant of the legal maxim “It’s not the lie, it’s the cover-up,” she intimidates everyone present into staging a robbery gone wrong. Unfortunately for all involved in the frame job, there WAS a robbery and this has gone VERY wrong!
Luther initially tries to flee the country, but, after witnessing the president give a hollow speech to the victim’s husband, our jewel thief has a change of heart.
Who, though, will believe Luther? He’s a dishonorable thief going up against America’s leader, the most honorable man in the country!
…Yeah, the ’90s held a more favorable view of the executive branch.
I thought that it had all the ingredients of an amazing political thriller, but the recipe could’ve used some refinement and the chef could’ve been more attentive.
The core conceit of a jewel thief witnessing a crime that the president committed is barely plausible. Audiences are fine with that initial level of implausibility, but if the movie wants to hold onto any level of seriousness, it has to make the rest of the movie believable. To Absolute Power‘s credit, it takes pains to show how various interested parties are allowed to stay in the loop. The rushed cover-up by the staff unfolds nicely and the subsequently confused police are smart enough to be an annoyance for Luther and a welcome layer of intrigue for the viewer.
…Then Luther Whitney dons his Clark-Kent-level disguises. One scene literally has the character in a mustache, an old-man hat, and a heavy trench coat. This is almost immediately after his daughter tells the cops that Luther could be “right around the corner from you, and you wouldn’t know it.” I’ve seen Clint Eastwood in real life (from afar–he grimaced at me from a speeding golf cart while I was on a studio tour), and I immediately recognized him. This entire angle of the movie took me out.
Also jarring were the amount of truncated plot lines. Richard Jenkins has a full three minutes in this movie as a mercenary sniper. He gets dropped after the halfway point. Ed Harris has a sharp-eyed partner whom we don’t see again after minute 40. Dennis Haybert’s Secret-Service agent successfully lures Whitney to a semi-secluded location by threatening the thief’s daughter… then leaves to try and kill Whitney while he visits his child in the hospital. Gene Hackman is underutilized as a scummy leader who can change from bumbling fool to vicious predator on a dime. (This last criticism isn’t totally fair, as I think Gene Hackman is underused in every film in which he appears.)
Lastly, I thought Clint Eastwood showed flashes of brilliance as a director in this project–a murder scene witnessed from a chair, a tense dance number constructed around a key piece of evidence, a white-knuckle standoff blocked within a limousine. Those flashes of brilliance, however, made the creaky pacing issues between the highlights all the more noticeable. Consequently, Absolute Power gives off a lax vibe–the exact opposite one wants from a thriller.
Strangely, I think today’s viewers will find the film’s premise less ludicrous but will find the resolution more ridiculous. The idea of a president who abuses his sexual partners then gets his staff to cover everything up isn’t as farfetched today as it was 25 years ago. The idea of that president and his staff facing swift consequences from a just police system with unrestrained access, however, stretches suspension of disbelief.
So, though our cultural attitudes have changed, Absolute Power‘s value remains the same. Were this 1997, I’d say it’s worth renting at Blockbuster, but not worth the late fee. Today, I’d say it’s worth streaming on Max, but not worth the subscription renewal fee.