Absolute Power Review

Hard-pressed to name one other book from David Baldacci, Absolute Power will have to do. Not because it is widely passed around through circles of friends to read and discuss, but because Clint Eastwood thought he’d be a great Luther Whitney. He is not entirely wrong. A master thief who may be the key to unlocking a criminal investigation involving the President of the United States, this late-1990s feature from Eastwood plays with its title rather nicely. What is there to be done when the absolute power of office is abused to cover up a cold-blooded murder? The confusion and hushed words that make themselves apparent in this thrilling script are a nice touch and the important key to unlocking Eastwood’s intentions. 

Scrappy they may be at times, the directing tropes of Eastwood within this feature are rather strong. He is still playing the morally ambiguous character of old. It is not every day audiences are asked to appeal to the emotions of a thief. But Absolute Power gives us reason to. It is the reasonable doubt audiences must give, but Eastwood cannot expect. He once more tries to blur that line between hero and flawed individual. That coaxing of two walks of life presented rather well within Whitney’s character. Maybe it is the tenderness of age that is so inherent to his role here, because the ageism at heart in Hollywood would not usually allow for an elderly man to storm around stealing from homes. It is a game for the younger man. King of Thieves and Night at the Museum used the elderly as bumbling vagabonds in search of some simple days in their twilight years, but for Eastwood’s portrayal here, it is much more serious than that.  

Tension is frequent within Absolute Power, and it is a vital tool Eastwood relies on not just in those obvious moments of suspense when the music heightens and the camera fixates on the protagonists face, but the reveals, twists and turns throughout are just as rewarding. Gene Hackman makes for an incredibly conniving lead. His devious nature and fear feel genuine. It is intense and the initial appearance from President Allen Richmond builds up much of the moral dilemma surrounding Absolute Power. To bring down a bad man would bring Whitney down too, and it is the evaluation of whether or not that gamble, that sacrifice, is actually worth it that Eastwood blurs so well with his performance.  

Where Absolute Power falters, though, is when it wishes to clash these two lawless beasts together. Hackman may be a slick and sophisticated politician, but when that façade is stolen away from him by the happy-go-lucky scamp that is this small-time crook, the film falls apart. It becomes more a legal drama with ramifications of morality and a senseless belief in doing the right thing than anything else. Noble that may be, it is not particularly magnificent. Eastwood deliberates on that for some time, and with some lacklustre direction decides to give in to these characters and allow them a bit of a wider scope than first anticipated. The end feels like a cop-out and a half, but that is because Eastwood loves the hero’s end. An American hero’s end at that. Who can fault him for that? It is rather enjoyable after so long in the saddle, as Eastwood does realise within this Baldacci adaptation. 

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