Absolute Power (1997)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

"Corrupts Absolutely."

When it first came out, this movie was popular among ďconservativesĒ and others who opposed the Clinton presidency. There are many resemblances between its President Allen Richmond and Bill Clinton. Many of the people who didnít like the film then for that reason should take another look now. It has qualities that make it relevant outside the period of its initial release.

Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood, who does very well as lead actor as well as producer / director and more) is an amateur artist. He is also a professional thief: a cat burglar. To most outward appearances he appears to live frugally in a small house on his veteranís disability. Luther cultivates such appearances. Luther is also an apparently mostly absent father to Kate (Laura Linney), who is a criminal prosecutor in the area.

The plotline begins when Luther enters the palatial home of billionaire Walter Sullivan (E.G. Marshall in one of his last roles). He defeats the security system and goes directly to the hidden vault. He collects a fair amount of loot, but on his way out he encounters other people: Walter Sullivanís young wife Christy (Melora Hardin) and her guest, President Richmond (Gene Hackman, in an excellent portrayal). Luther hides in the vault he has just robbed, and although well hidden is able to observe all that occurs in the room.

Christy and POTUS have been drinking and seem to be on the road to deeper intimacy, when POTUS starts to get mean and rough. Christy doesnít encourage the mistreatment and expresses her dislike of it, but this seems to only spur POTUS on to more violence. Christy resists and then fights back, eventually gaining the upper hand when POTUS calls for help and two Secret Service agents: Tim Collin (Dennis Haysbert) and Bill Burton (Scott Glenn) appear and shoot Christy from behind before she kills POTUS.

Shortly after the shots, POTUSís Chief of Staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis, with another excellent portrayal) enters and corrects Agent Burtonís inclination to call the local police. Instead they start a cover-up of the murder scene attempting to create the impression that Christy came home, surprised a burglar, who then killed her (Luther is still hiding in the vault during all this). They finish up, hurry out, but misplace some of the evidence that they had planned on removing. Luther takes the misplaced evidence along with his loot down a rope out the back into the woods. When Gloria discovers the missing item she sends the agents back but they do not catch Luther before he gets to his car.

Lieutenant Seth Frank (Ed Harris) of the local police, along with Laura Simon (Penny Johnson) and a full forensic crew are on the scene the next day, and although they do find that the home was robbed, also discover a disquieting number of facts that just donít fit with any standard explanation. However, Seth Frank is a resourceful detective, and seemingly an honest cop. He talks with the experts about who might attempt a job such as robbing Walter Sullivanís house. On the list of names is Luther Whitney. He has an amiable talk with Luther and one a bit less amiable with a non-receptive Kate, but has little to go on.

Meanwhile, POTUS and his crew, although they donít yet have Lutherís name, know that someone else knows what actually happened when Christy Sullivan was killed. That provides the real focus for the rest of the film.

If you are looking for an actual crime drama with Clint Eastwood, watch one of the Dirty Harry films. Absolute Power is a crime drama about solving a murder mystery in the same way that The Matrix is a science fiction film about humans as electrical power sources. In both cases, the superficially apparent genre is a vehicle which carries a more interesting cargo, one that might not be as easy to convey directly via Hollywood. In keeping with the seemingly ďtopsy-turvyĒ style of this film, those who are often thought of by many in American society as positive role models: POTUS, secret service agents, etc. are the villains; and a cat burglar is the character who shows integrity.

Absolute Power is an indictment of the modern American central government, its ruling politicians and even to a small extent the powers behind the ďthrone.Ē It has perceptive insight into the corrosive effects of power. In this film political power corrupts those it touches most. Some are obvious examples such as POTUS, his Chief of Staff and the eager to kill secret service agent ably played by Dennis Haysbert. Others are more tragic cases, such as Scott Glennís Bill Burton: the good cop gone bad. The movie is also a paean to the virtues of family and decency with the relationships between Luther and Kate, as well as Kate and Seth. In addition, like icing on a cake, the soundtrack has a couple of original Clint Eastwood musical compositions, especially good is the recurring Kateís theme.

Absolute Power is really more than merely a hit piece about Bill Clinton. With its indictment of political power and its excellent portrayals by the fine cast, it offers its viewers insight and entertainment.

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