1997 Movie Review: ABSOLUTE POWER, 1997 (dir. Clint Eastwood)

Movie Reviews

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Ed Harris Gene Hackman, Laura Linney, Scott Glenn, Dennis Haysbert, Judy Davis, Richard Jenkins
Review by Surinder Singh


Professional thief Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) finds himself the sole witness to a murder involving the US President Richmond (Gene Hackman) during a routine robbery. A dangerous game of cat and mouse begins. Whitney must stop the murder weapon and his own daughter Kate (Laura Linney) from falling into the hands of the corrupt President and his aids. How can a guilty thief bring the President of the United States to justice and still make a clean getaway?


Absolute Power is a feast for movie lovers with its all-star cast (including Eastwood’s own daughter Alison Eastwood). Also, with it being a thriller directed by the capable hands of Clint Eastwood himself you really can’t lose! Absolute Power is indeed a brilliant thriller with solid performances all round (not that this is a surprise). The nineties marked Eastwood’s transition to senior roles where his age became a large part of his roles. In The Line Of Fire (1993) and Unforgiven (1992) showed us Clint Eastwood actually exploring his age as a subject/theme in his work.

As the older thief, Luther Whitney has to reflect on the life he has lead. His wife is dead and he’s trying to make amends with his estranged daughter Kate. Naturally the event of the murder will change his life forever. The murder scene is quite simply an exquisite piece of filmmaking; bringing together acting and writing to sinister effect. We watch Whitney observe through a one-way mirror a simple affair turn into a tragic killing. Eastwood crafts the scene with a voyeuristic suspense and intrigue allowing the action to unfold dramatically but also showing us the important details. You can imagine the scene being in a Hitchcock movie.

As President Allen Richmond, Gene Hackman takes a role going against his usual typecast. Rather than being the brash hard man on the front line, Hackman plays a scheming, snake-in-the-grass of a President who gets others do his dirty work! Richmond’s partner in crime is a thoroughly nasty piece of work: Chief of Staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis). She’s the real personification of evil using her two Secret Service agents: Burton (Scott Glenn) and Collin (Dennis Haysbert) to carry out her deeds. The idea of a US President trying to cover up an affair was certainly a relevant topic given the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal in 1997.

Hot on the trail of both Whitney (and trying to get his head around a murder scene that makes no sense at all) Seth Frank (Ed Harris) is a good cop who gets close to Whitney’s daughter Kate during the investigation. In wonderful scene in the art gallery both Frank and Whitney cross swords and discuss the case at hand. Both Harris and Eastwood show what great actors they are here. Not a single line of the script becomes cryptic and they both make clear the underlying conversation about the investigation.

Another interesting element is the Secret Service agent Burton. His guilt bears down hard on him, unlike Collin who is more of a cold killing machine that only responds to orders from above. Burton represents the only person inside the President’s circle who seems to realize the moral issues at play. While everyone is blinded by their duty to the President, he is the one who stops and realizes they made a mistake that was not just. It’s fascinating that two men like Burton and Collin (so different in beliefs) can work side by side in government.

As fate would have it Whitney’s daughter Kate is of course a law prosecutor. This is quite an obvious move by the script to push moral questions onto Whitney who (being a thief) obviously an individual moral compass. Kate also provides a good motive for him to come out of hiding. In the scene in the outdoor cafÈ we see Whitney risk snipers to see his daughter who is now working with Frank to bring her father in. Eastwood does well to keep the action simple and not go over board.
The key to Whitney’s redemption is for him to allow the law to solve the murder and bring the real killers to justice. Whitney uses his slippery skills to incriminate the guilty people but not before he reverses his own sin (putting the swag he robbed back). The movie is about the importance of telling the truth sure, but the movie also makes the point that corruption blinds good people and so bad things happen.

Absolute Power is solid viewing and well worth a watch on a Saturday night in. Like much of Clint Eastwood’s directorial work in the 90s, it shows him building toward the quality of directing we now take for granted in his more recent work: Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Mystic River (2003).

Surinder Singh – Feb 2010



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