Sunday, April 3, 2011

Old and Harry: "Absolute Power" (1997)

Clint Eastwood directs a surprising, sharp thriller based on the novel by David Baldacci.

Luther (Clint Eastwood) is your run of the mill, over the hill professional burglar. His latest hit is at the mansion of vacationing philanthropist Walter Sullivan (E.G. Marshall). He finds jewels, coins, lots of cash, but almost gets caught. He hides in a vault with a two-way mirror and watches the very young Mrs. Christy Sullivan (Melora Hardin) kanoodle around with a much older man (Gene Hackman). The foreplay becomes more slap than tickle, and the couple try to kill each other before two men (Scott Glenn, Dennis Haysbert) bust into the room and shoot Christy dead. Luther would think nothing of it, except the two men doing the shooting are Secret Service agents and Christy's lover is U.S. President Allen Richmond.

Luther runs, trying to get in contact with his estranged daughter Kate (Laura Linney), who has grown up to become a prosecuting attorney. Hot on Luther's trail are the Secret Service agents, White House Chief of Staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis), who covered up the crime, Detective Seth Frank (an excellent Ed Harris), who sees things are not as cut and dried as the conspirators had hoped, and a gunman hired by a vindictive Sullivan, who has money to burn. Richmond tries to keep out of it, but the villainous camp begins to turn in on themselves as Luther sends them signs indicating he knows everything that has happened.

Eastwood directs a screenplay by William Goldman masterfully. There are no big giant explosive action sequences or James Bondish car chases. Eastwood wisely lets the characters go through the paces, knowing their secrets are more interesting than yet another stunt. He knows how to keep the tension cranked up, I was reminded of Brian DePalma many times throughout the film (especially the outdoor cafe scene and the hospital scene).

The entire cast is great. Eastwood plays smart and old well. Linney could have been the stereotypical wronged daughter all grown up, but she has a nice presence. Ed Harris is perfect as Frank. Glenn is sympathetic as Burton, the agent who did not want any of this in the beginning, and he serves as a nice balance to the creepy Collin, played by Dennis Haysbert in a chilling role that does not cross over into Hannibal Lecter-pathos. E.G. Marshall does come along and show these young whipper snappers how it's done, in one of his last roles.

Part of the fun (yes, parts of this are fun) is watching Luther play the different sides off of each other when he is being shot at literally from all sides. He is normally in control, and goes to extraordinary lengths to keep it that way.

"Absolute Power" is a top notch professional job in every way. Many complain about its pacing, or how outlandish the plot is. Considering the actions of a number of administrations over the past few years, I did not find the idea outlandish at all. As for the pacing, this ain't "Dirty Harry," but I was never bored, either. Definitely one to see. (* * * * *) out of five stars.