It’s Clint vs. Clinton!
Knowing Clint Eastwood’s Republican slant, Absolute Power is an interesting jab at the presidency and at the current president. Gene Hackman plays President Alan Richmond, a slimy politician who uses his power for sexual favors and official coverups, as Clinton is alleged to have done.
Clint Eastwood is Luther Whitney, the “master thief” with a heart of gold. One night while robbing a mansion, he is surprised by noises in the supposedly empty house. He hides in a vault with a two-way mirror and watches a man and a woman enter the bedroom. They flirt for a while, then the man starts getting rough. The flirting becomes fighting. When the woman finally gets the upper hand the man calls for help and two other men enter the room and shoot the woman dead. The scene is covered up to look like a failed burglary attempt (which puts Luther in a tough spot, him being a burglar at the scene of the crime). The killers eventually discover Luther’s presence, but not before he can escape.
The man from the room was no less than the president of the United States, flirting with the young wife of the mansion’s owner. He was assisted in the coverup by his chief of staff and two Secret Service agents.
Luther begins to feel the heat both from the local police and from the Secret Service. He considers leaving the country and even makes it as far as the airport. But when he sees a press conference where the president uses the dead woman’s husband both for PR and to pin the murder on the mysterious burglar, Luther decides to stay and fight the hypocrite.
The story is interesting, and it is told without all the polish and hype of a mainstream Hollywood thriller. Eastwood is good at breaking from the formula and this movie is helped immensely by it. For example, Luther is interested in art and sketching. He leaves his keys in the plant on his front porch. Eastwood is no youngster and neither is his character; Luther even jokes about being in the AARP. In short: he is not the caricature that he could have been in a worse but slicker movie. (In contrast, I recall the previews for Murder at 1600, where Wesley Snipes lands at the White House and tells his dispatcher [with a straight face, I might add] “There’s been a murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: an address that changes all the rules.” Why his dispatcher wouldn’t already know that is a mystery to me.)
The movie also appears to have been made on a shoestring budget, which also helps this movie. The credits rolled by in just a few minutes, and there were no lavish stunts or expensive computer effects. At the time I didn’t even notice their absence, and it’s refreshing to think that good movies can still be made with only actors, a tight script, and some nice locations. I won’t be surprised if this movie is much better than Murder at 1600, or if it’s better because it focused on the basics.
There is a subplot involving Luther and his daughter which feels contrived and probably didn’t need to be included. I suppose it gives some depth to Luther’s character, but their relationship was predictable in an otherwise original movie. Luther worries about Kate’s health; Kate worries about dad’s career. They are estranged at first, but going through this conflict together reunites them. Blah blah blah.
The movie ended abruptly and left some loose ends. We know only from a TV voice-over what happens to many of the main characters, and we get no time to digest that information. Eastwood probably wanted to focus only on Luther at the end, but I believe it was a bad decision. If Eastwood thought length was a problem (and it wasn’t), screen time could have been better spent putting closure to some of the smaller issues in the film, rather than delving so deeply into Kate’s story.