At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Absolute Power “97”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Mystery-Thriller/ Stars: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Scott Glenn, Dennis Haysbert, Judy Davis, E. G. Marshall, Melora Hardin, Kenneth Welsh, Penny Johnson, Richard Jenkins, Mark Margolis/ Runtime: 121 minutes

I think it is safe to say that the power and the political machinations that come into play whenever the office of the President is caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar has always made for both delightful and intriguing fact and fiction alike. Thus it was with this common knowledge in hand, that in the year 1996 we got a Clint Eastwood movie known as Absolute Power, a thriller that chooses to tell us a tale of a made-up cover-up and how both a President and a thief as a result find themselves stuck dead in the middle of the whole affair. Yet in addition to being a pretty good little film with a wonderful set of terrific performances, I guess what makes this film so intriguing to a lot of people is that its narrative plain and simply no longer gives off the vibe of something that could only be limited to the world of fiction. Indeed considering just how many incredible yet also absurd and ridiculous scandals that have occurred to various American politicians over the years, this is a movie which, when looked at in the wake of 24-hour news stations and just how quickly information can be made public, has a whole new meaning to it. Indeed equipped with terrific work both in front of and behind the camera as well as a narrative which could easily have just been something taken from the news around us today as much as a fictional tale about reprehensible behavior, Absolute Power makes for a thrilling ride with a simple yet potent tone that seems to suggest that not only is this plausible, but even more frightening, maybe just maybe it already has…..

The plot is as follows: Absolute Power starts off by introducing us to a man by the name of Luther Whitney. Indeed here is a man in the twilight of life who has a friend or 2 here and there, is estranged from his daughter, and who lives a seemingly quiet and ordinary life. It is the latter element to Mr. Whitney however that is a ruse. Indeed Mr. Whitney, we soon are able to both perceive and witness in action, is a top-notch student of the criminal school known as breaking and entering or burglary if you choose to make things simple and to the point. Indeed Whitney is so skilled in his “chosen profession” that not only can he conquer the easiest of security measures with no sweat, but he is also able to break into the wealthiest estates and businesses in the country and make off with such items that would make a common crook greener than the Hulk with envy. That all changes however when, during what was supposed to be just another run-of-the-mill robbery at a gorgeous estate, a couple enters the house from the bottom entrance. Yet even though they are too inebriated and….occupied shall we say with each other to notice that a burglary is being committed right in front of them, they still grope their way into the bedroom just as Luther slinks into a remote-operated closet complete with two-way mirror. It is through this nightmarish looking glass that Luther finds himself stunned to be coming face to face with none other than a man by the name of Alan Richmond, a man whose job title is no less than President of the United States. Things quickly go from bad to worse however when the romance goes awry, and before too long a struggle has commenced, but is quickly thwarted when a pair of Richmond’s Secret Service agents burst in, and shoot the woman before she could injure further or even kill the, deserving of it, philandering Richmond with a letter opener (apparently they wanted to use an ice pick, but Sharon Stone wouldn’t give them permission). Thankfully for our intrepid robber Luther, neither the Super Mario Brothers Secret Service team nor the President’s Chief of Staff, and head maid in the cover-up department, are aware that he is watching and can both see and hear everything they say as they plot how best to cover-up the President’s lecherous acts. It is in the midst of all this chaos that Luther manages to get out of there with crucial evidence that firmly plants responsibility on the President and his team rather than some patsy off the street, but not before the Secret Service finally discovers that there was a third party in their midst during the execution of the cover-up. Thus with Luther’s very life in jeopardy, and a dedicated cop by the name of Seth Frank assigned to investigate the case, Luther must choose if he should take the easy way out and flee the country or do the right thing for once and take on a fight head-on even IF it is a fight that will pit him against some of the highest power in the entire country…..

Now it should be noted that Absolute Power is not by any stretch your typical entry in the mystery genre of film. Indeed this is a movie where the facts of the case occur right in front of both the audience and the key characters involved right off the bat. Thus we get a film that is not so much about solving a mystery, but instead is about the aftermath of the crime and just how it makes a dent in the lives of this cast of characters. Indeed it is this main attribute which manages to distinguish this film from others of a similar ilk plus not to mention the fact that this film is character-driven by strong and dependable talent that manage to do wonders with the narrative with reliability and who are not willing to work with some run-of-the-mill narrative structure, but instead are more concerned with constructing characters that are realistic with genuine motivations and emotions no matter what their role in the story is. Thus by making the film first and foremost about the characters, we see that the narrative almost becomes lost to the powerhouse performances on display partly because there is a lack of the typical whodunit-type situation, but also because the cast is terrific at playing this as straight and narrow as possible. Indeed whilst there are traces of action scattered throughout the film, but it is riveting dialogue, shots of a contemplative nature, and background subtleties that all manage to craft the movie significantly more so than the minuscule yet well-crafted action beats that pop up. Indeed whereas many films like this one tend to prefer chase scenes, gun battles, and the unknown to make their mark on audiences, this film instead lays everything out right at the beginning and then sets itself with the challenge of creating an intriguing movie even though virtually the biggest surprise is revealed right at the very beginning.

If nothing else however, it should be noted that Absolute Power is a terrific look at the marvelous dual talents of iconic talent Clint Eastwood. Indeed he may be the star of the film whilst in front of the camera, but it is steady and capable directing technique, complete with an ingenious script, behind the camera that sets the stage wonderfully for the narrative. By that I mean that it is, in equal measure, unpredictable, calculated, and quite reflective. Not exactly the material to make a pedal-to-the-metal kind of film, but instead makes this film the work of a helmer that utilizes these concepts to both strengthen the narrative and heighten up the positives contained within. Indeed in the capable hands of Clint, neither this film’s close to 2 hour runtime or its lack of heavy action moments manage to bring down the vibe of the movie or its ability to work as well as it does. Instead it just helps to keep his direction as steady and on-point as it needs to be, with the extra effect that it manages to snare more of a vibe rather than a specific appearance thus making it the best partner-in-crime to the intriguing narrative. I guess it should come as no surprise to learn then that Eastwood in front of the camera is just as terrific as he is behind it. Indeed Eastwood manages to contribute a lead performance that is majestically intriguing as we get here a life-long thief that must balance both his own morality in his fleeing the scene as well as his desire to confront the most powerful man in America in order to get justice. Yet even though the character portrayed by Eastwood is easily the best-developed and most intriguing individual in the group, he still brilliantly manages to back himself up with some equally as terrific and dependable support. Indeed as the 2 men most interested in pursuing Whitney, but for completely different reasons, we get terrific work from both Gene Hackman and Ed Harris as well as a potent supporting cast made up of dependable performers including Scott Glenn, Dennis Haysbert on loan from Allstate, Judy Davis, Laura Linney, Penny Johnson, E.G. Marshall, and Richard Jenkins only contribute to the style and finesse of the film. Indeed this is a film that manages to bring together a genuinely dependable cast of hardworking talent that are also performers who exemplify a high degree of both professionalism and honesty and manage to contribute a coherence to the film that, much like the work done by Eastwood in front of and behind the camera, fits the material to a t.

All in all it is safe to say that moviegoers looking for action and adventure will leave Absolute Power feeling a wee bit underwhelmed since there is scarcely any of either of those elements to be found in this movie. Rather, Absolute Power chooses to be a movie that is crafted with the finesse of a master and engaging based off its cast of intriguing enough characters despite the relative lack of a more stereotypical mystery layout thus giving the characters and their arcs the ability instead of any action moments to control just where exactly the film chooses to go. Indeed this is a good example of how skilled professionals, headed by Clint Eastwood and backed by some of the more dependable actors from the 1990’s, and not to mention the hardworking team behind the camera as well can manage to overcome the absence of some of the more typical narrative and genre ingredients. Thus I think it is safe to say that Absolute Power is most definitely deserving of at least a singular watch if only for you movie lover to get the chance to witness the fantastic skill and care that went into making in a standout amongst other films that typically rely more on action beats rather than meaningful characters to drive a narrative forward. On a scale of 1-5 I give Absolute Power “97” a solid 3 out of 5.