Monday 9 May 2022

Movie Review: Absolute Power (1997)

A thriller swirling near the pinnacle of politics, Absolute Power features an outlandish plot and uneven pacing but slick-enough execution.

While robbing the lavish Washington DC mansion of billionaire power broker Walter Sullivan (E.G. Marshall), aging professional thief Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) secretly witnesses a rough sex session between US President Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman) and Sullivan's much younger wife Christy (Melora Hardin). When the roughness boils over into violence and Christy threatens Richmond with a letter opener, Secret Service agents Burton (Scott Glenn) and Collin (Dennis Haysbert) shoot and kill her. The President's Chief of Staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis) orchestrates the cover-up.

Detective Seth Frank (Ed Harris) leads the investigation into Christy's death. Luther has a fraught relationship with his daughter Kate (Laura Linney), and is content to leave town before Frank catches up with him. But when Richmond nauseatingly pretends to grieve Sullivan's loss on national television, Luther decides to stick around and expose the President's hypocrisy.

An adaptation of a David Baldacci novel with a screenplay by William Goldman, Absolute Power boasts a strong cast and a glitzy coat of polish. Director and star Clint Eastwood allows the charismatic central character of Luther Whitney to anchor the action, and the aging, laid-back career thief occupies the eye of the storm with veteran ease. Gene Hackman is a welcome foil, but his role as the smarmy President Richmond is almost too easy.

The plot is preposterous and requires a quick surrender to park-your-brain impulses. The peak arrives early: Luther hiding in a secret chamber and watching through a one-way mirror as the President's secret sex liaison starts badly then just gets worse. Eastwood's reaction shots are terrific, and the resulting mess of overlapping crimes is a great jumping-off point for a convoluted cover-up. 

Thanks to the talent involved and high production values, the follow-through is never less than engaging, but also riddled with dead-ends and logic gaps. Richard Jenkins appears as a hit-man then disappears just as mysteriously; the two secret service agents pursue their own agendas leading to nowhere; and Judy Davis' Chief of Staff starts strong then dwindles to irrelevance. Meanwhile, Eastwood unnecessarily prolong most scenes, then loses rhythmic control in the final 15 minutes. The film ends in a jumbled rush of barely coherent events and actions, everything wrapped up in a frantic rush inconsistent with the careful build-up.

Elsewhere, the father-daughter dynamics between Luther and Kate are decent, Eastwood finding ways to tease out Luther's essence while avoiding most cliches. The stuttering would-be romance between detective Frank and Kate is less impressive and never grinds out of the awkward gear. Absolute Power does not fulfill all its promises, but still provides passable potency.

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