- Clint Eastwood as Luther Whitney
- Gene Hackman as President Alan Richmond
- Ed Harris as Detective Seth Frank
- Laura Linney as Kate Whitney
- Scott Glenn as Bill Burton
- Dennis Haysbert as Tim Collin
- Judy Davis as Gloria Russell
- E. G. Marshall as Walter Sullivan
It may not be a movie that breaks any new ground, but Clint Eastwood’s Absolute Power is a taut and tense thriller that is severely underrated and should be better known due to some fine acting and confident direction.
Luther Whitney is a smart and methodical cat burglar, who is also ageing. Deciding to do one last job, he infiltrates the wealthy home of prominent philanthropist Walter Sullivan. Yet this job proves to be much deadlier and dangerous than his previous work because of what he witnesses. The young wife of the Sullivan named Christy is drunk and cavorting with none other than the President Alan Richmond, yet this liaison becomes very dark as he becomes abusive and she attempts to flee. To Luther’s horror, Secret Service agents come in and shoot her, killing her. The President’s loyal fixer Gloria Russell then orchestrates a cover up. Luther manages to escape with a key piece of evidence. Meanwhile, determined Detective Seth Frank investigates the murder and while suspicious of Luther, doesn’t think he committed murder. Luther is all for skipping the country in fear that he will be discovered and possibly accused of the crime. But just as he is about to leave, he sees a new report detailing a press conference from Richmond in which he condemns violence in society and uses Sullivan as a way of sympathy. Enraged by this, Luther decides to stay and fight for justice. He enlists the help of his estranged prosecutor daughter Kate, who holds deep resentment for him but helps anyway as she is curious to see whether her father really cares for her. With both the police and the president’s men on his detail, Luther must stay sharp if he is to expose the corruption at the top of the political ladder while staying alive.
As a director, Clint Eastwood showcases confident and engaging direction throughout Absolute Power. I admired the way he knew when to slow events down to focus on the personal drama of Luther’s complicated relationship with his daughter, and then ratchet them up a notch to generate suspense and intrigue. The murder sequence and Luther’s escape are fine examples of this skill, as it builds up slowly but surely and then becomes heart-stopping and thrilling. Absolute Power is very well-paced and doesn’t feel the need to rush events, rather it lets them unravel while still being riveting as we watch Luther outwit assailants in his hope to bring the President down. I’ve always found political scandals and cover ups fascinating and Absolute Power definitely reinforces that. The sharp script addresses themes of morality and corruption, while giving the characters some excellent dialogue to read. There are occasional implausibilities along the way, yet they can be forgiven because of how well-mounted and directed the movie is. Praise should go to the editing which compliments the dangerous journey and subsequent attempts to avoid being killed. An excellent score is further helpful in establishing the cat and mouse game at play.
Leading the well-established and talented cast is Clint Eastwood himself. He does a marvellous job portraying Luther, who is smart, efficient and not afraid to admit that he’s getting to old for the thieving business. Instead of the character just being a grumpy old man, Eastwood displays lightness of foot, wry humour yet also a code of moral conduct that means he can’t walk away from the crime he has seen. There may be no honor among thieves, but Eastwood’s character has a heart. As the corrupt president, Gene Hackman is an excellent choice as he conveys a slimy quality and the ability to use those around him for his own dirty work. The ever-reliable Ed Harris is on hand playing the determined but good-hearted detective, whose unconvinced that Luther is guilty of murder but curious to know what knowledge he has. Harris shares a particularly entertaining scene with Eastwood as he tries to get information out of him, but Eastwood bluffs and only offers hints with a dash of wry humour. Laura Linney fills her role of Luther’s estranged daughter with a toughness that belies inner pain at all the times her father wasn’t there for her as a child. Scott Glenn and Dennis Haysbert are fine as the Secret Service agents with different ideas about how to handle the scandal, Glenn being the one who feels remorse, while Haysbert is the ice-cold killer who asks no questions. Judy Davis is impeccable as the fixer who while good at her job fears that one day her worrying attitude will trip her up. And rounding out the cast in what would be his final screen appearance is E. G. Marshall, who is very as the philanthropist whose wife was murdered.
Tightly constructed and splendidly performed, Absolute Power is a thriller that is crafted with precision from Clint Eastwood.