Ed Harris and Clint Eastwood in Absolute Power.
Clint Eastwood has directed some 30 movies. In his 20th outing as director, Eastwood proves that experience alone does not necessarily make for a great film. Eastwood directs himself as an old jewel thief, Luther. While robbing a very wealthy home he witnesses the President of the United States having an affair, and the murder of the woman with the President. As he is a criminal, he does not come forward. He instead decides to flee the country, but after watching a newscast of the President pretending to grieve with the dead woman's husband, Luther feels compelled to take action.
The movie never really makes complete sense. First of all, Luther is a thief, and as such, is not an honorable man. He witnesses a woman get beat up and does nothing to stop it. Only when he sees the President about to get away with the assault does he decide to step in. His decision to leave the country also does not make sense. His only joys in life are art and spying on his estranged daughter. He would never leave her no matter how badly the danger. Later in the movie he risks his life to just see her.
Absolute Power has some problems. Eastwood wears some of the worst disguises since Superman put on some glasses and parted his hair on the other side. A mere pair of glasses or an obviously fake mustache are the best this "master thief" can come up with? Another weakness is in the editing. Early on, some secret service agents race up the stairs of a mansion to get Eastwood. He has time to get out his rope, attach it to a bed, throw it out the window and slowly lower himself down to the ground before the agents ever get in the room. Then they all of-a-sudden catch up to him in the woods and that is after they raced back down the stairs and stopped by their car to get some night goggles.
What Absolute Power has going for it, is a great cast. It has some of the best balding actors of the last twenty years. Maybe it's a coincidence or maybe Eastwood just didn't want to be the only balding actor on the screen. Scott Glenn has the best Eastwood like line in the movie. "I should've called the police that night but I was weak. You convinced me to stay silent. I regret that. Know this: every time I see your face, I wanna rip your throat out."
Eastwood dominates Absolute Power but his Luther is never really all that likable. He abandoned his family and is a shameless criminal. The movie tries to get you to care for him by showing his concern for his daughter, but it never really pulls you in. Only Laura Linney and Ed Harris play sympathetic characters, but they have very limited screen time. Had the movie expanded on their merely hinted at relationship, the movie might have found a more relatable emotional core than just a jewel thief who occasionally stalks his daughter.
Clint Eastwood in Absolute Power.
Eric, from your complaints, it sounds as though you might enjoy the original novel more. Although the central idea remained the same, many of the details were altered in the translation from page to screen. The biggest changes being that Eastwood's character, Luther, is killed two-thirds of the way through the book. The reason the novel is able to get away with this is because the main protagonist in the novel is actually a young lawyer friend of Luther's and ex-boyfriend of Luther's daughter. His character is completely omitted from the movie and Eastwood's first direction to scriptwriter William Goldman was to ensure "everyone the audience likes doesn't get killed off", meaning of course, "Keep my character alive until the end."
Because of this change, and probably because he starred, directed, and produced it, Eastwood does in fact dominate the film as Eric said. However, I don't think that's such a bad thing. I found Luther likeable enough. It's true he is a criminal and yes, he obviously wasn't the most ideal father, but his flaws are what make him, as they make all of us, an interesting person. And Eastwood is quite good in the role, bringing all those Eastwood mannerisms with him that he employed so well throughout his career. He was 67 when the film was released, but still in good enough shape to believably pull off the chase through the woods.
However, I do agree that Eastwood's domination prevents the other characters from ever coming into their own. Ed Harris, as Detective Frank, is quite good, and is described as a great detective. When he's first introduced, it seems as though he might be the one to figure out what really happened, but as the film goes on his part becomes smaller and less significant. Likewise, the relationship between Luther and his daughter is wrapped up too easily when she is injured. This injury seems to cause her feelings for him to soften, when considering that she never would have been injured if it weren't for Luther, this isn't necessarily the most logical conclusion.
There are other places where the script is equally illogical. After the murder, the secret service spends hours cleaning the bedroom to remove all trace of the President's presence, and yet, for some odd reason they never think to wipe off the Letter Opener that has his fingerprints and blood on it. Instead, they bag it without cleaning it and intend to take it with them. Why? And soon after this illogical step, Luther steps out of his hiding place mere seconds after they have left the room and then goes to stand in the window and watch them as they're getting ready to leave. Why doesn't he wait a few minutes to give them time to be long gone? Does he have a prostrate condition and need to pee? Surely, waiting 10 minutes or so would have made more sense. Later in the film, Luther is alarmed when he is told by Detective Frank that the secret service has taken over the surveillance of Luther's daughter. This is his cue to go tearing off to try and save her. The problem with this is why is Kate under surveillance, when Luther is the main suspect? The only reason for that surveillance would be in case Luther makes contact with her, in which case, why would Frank tell Luther about it?
Despite these plot holes, I did seem to enjoy this movie more than Eric. It's far from perfect certainly, but thanks to the heavyweight acting cast and a few tense scenes, it still manages to be fairly entertaining.
Dennis Haysbert in Absolute Power.
Absolute Power starts off with a bang. The opening sequence where Luther witnesses the murder, right up to the point where he gets away from the two secret service agents in the woods, is well-filmed. It features some intense acting and contains a real sense of danger. It's an intriguing 30 to 40 minutes that, unfortunately, the rest of the movie fails to fully capitalize on.
Gene Hackman is particularly good as the philandering President Richmond, with his penchant for rough sex. Like Eastwood, Hackman was a senior citizen at the time of filming but still manages to pull off a fairly physically strenuous scene as he wrestles around on the floor with Melora Hardin. His best line comes after she's killed when he answers in all honesty that he doesn't even know if he had sex with the deceased woman.
Although I didn't dislike Luther, I see Eric's point about his questionable motives. He was willing to walk away after witnessing a murder that would implicate the President but merely seeing that President being fake on television changes his mind? “You heartless whore! I'm not about to run from you.” He snarls to himself in sudden and unexpected rage. It's another weak plot point to go along with the ones my brothers already listed.
I also thought it highly unlikely that not one, but two snipers would miss him while he's sitting at an outdoor cafe. And, as Eric said, his disguises are almost laughable. This is made even worse by the fact that at one point Luther's daughter brags about this ability to Frank, “I'm saying, you won't recognize him. I'm saying, he could be right around the corner.” Laura Linney is such a great actress that she manages to create a believable daughter/father bond despite the somewhat awkwardly written script.
The cast also includes E.G. Marshall as the dead woman's husband in what would be his final theatrical movie role and Richard Jenkins as one of the aforementioned snipers. Scott Glenn and Dennis Haysbert (see photo) play the secret service agents and Judy Davis gets the juiciest female role as Gloria, the President's Chief of Staff whose job it is to clean up this bloody mess.
Clint Eastwood brings his considerable screen presence -in his waning action hero days- as master thief Luther Whitney. His direction, while not exactly inspired, keeps the action moving along and never gets in the way. Absolute Power has a great cast, and features a terrific opening sequence, but its plot soon runs out of gas.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (1997)