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Absolute Power

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Absolute Power

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Dennis Haysbert
Director: Clint Eastwood
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: February 1997
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: E. G. Marshall, Ed Harris, Gene Hackman, Judy Davis, Laura Linney, Scott Glenn

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

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 early examples.

"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 to you."

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 intelligence again.

This frustrating film finally comes to an satisfying ending, but one that wraps up the loose ends all too neatly.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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