Sunday, October 5, 2008


Clint Eastwood makes out two kinds of movies. He cranks sure-fire popcorn hits such as "Dirty Harry" (1971) and "Pale Rider" (1985). But he also gambles with unproven, oddball projects such as "Pink Cadillac" (1989) and "A Perfect World" (1993). Eastwood's latest opus "Absolute Power," (***OUT OF****) co-starring Gene Hackman, Judy Davis, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, and Scott Glenn, combines elements of both kinds of Clint flicks. Altogether, "Absolute Power" is a laid back, efficient potboiler that avoids rabid sensationalism but delivers the goods.

In "Absolute Power," Clint plays Luther Whitney, a elderly but hi-tech cat burglar. During a jewelry heist at the posh estate of a well-known Washington, D.C. power broker, a drunken couple interrupt Luther as he's cleaning out the safe. He's trapped in a closet that houses the vault and valuables, but he remains undetected throughout the tryst. Suddenly,things get rough, and the man (Gene Hackman) finds himself in a deadly fight with a scorned woman. She stabs him once in the arm and is poised to plunge a letter opener into his chest when his Secret Service bodyguards scramble in and gun her down. Meanwhile, a shocked Luther sits quietly in the closet behind a two-way mirror and grimly contemplates his future. The man responsible for the murder of the socialite is none other than the President of the United States!

Republicans will no doubt stand in line and argue that Alan Richmond (Hackman) is a Democrat. The President in "Absolute Power" is insidious. Gene Hackman, a gifted actor who can turn on his emotions as easily as a water facet, excels in his portrayal of a philandering President. The President's Chief of Staff (Judy Davis) struggles to keep a lid on the murder. The Secret Service agent (Scott Glenn) who shot the girl bows to the Chief of Staff's decision not to summon the police. They clear the room of all evidence. But they lose the incriminating letter opener. When they go back, they find it gone and a rope hanging out a bedroom window. They realize somebody witnessed the murder, but they fail to capture him.

"Absolute Power" contains a couple of classic scenes. The President's tango with his chief of staff in a room full of guests while they discuss the murder is superb. Eastwood's clash with a Secret Service agent at the hospital is hard-edged Old Testament revenge. If you're looking for a dandy confrontation scene between Eastwood and Hackman like the one they had in "Unforgiven" prepare to be disappointed. The Eastwood and Hackman characters never cross paths.

Scriptwriter William Goldman of "Heat" has retooled David Baldacci's bestseller. Notably, he's changed the ending. "Absolute Power" has enough scenes from the popcorn style Clint movies to get it over the rough spots, but it strives to be different. Clint fans will approve of their hero's invincibility. As Luther Whitney, Eastwood doesn't miss a trick in besting the badguys. But he doesn't play his usual taciturn loner. His role emphasizes him as his father figure more than his action figure. "Absolute Power" is rated R, but there's no nudity, little blood, and moderate profanity.

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