Combustible Celluloid
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With: 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, Elaine Kagan
Written by: William Goldman, based on a book by David Baldacci
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexuality and language
Running Time: 121
Date: 02/03/1997

Absolute Power (1997)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Off-White House

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I saw Clint Eastwood's Absolute Power on VHS, in a room full of people, just a day or two after my wedding. I didn't take notes or write a review, but I remember being disappointed. Given those circumstances, I thought it would be fair today to give the movie a second chance. I definitely liked it better, though I think my appreciation rests not only on my own state of mind but also on the times themselves. In 1997, most critics called the film "implausible." It was possible to believe that the President of the United States could engage in an illicit affair but not that he could be a cold-blooded killer. Now in 2009 that's no longer the case.

A seasoned thief, Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood), breaks into a posh Washington D.C. mansion and finds himself hiding in a secret vault while the president (Gene Hackman) unexpectedly enters with a drunken female conquest. Luther watches, helplessly, as their sex play grows rougher and eventually results in murder. On his way out, Luther steals a key bit of evidence. A level-headed local police detective (Ed Harris) pieces together what really happened, but not before the president orders a hit on Luther's daughter, Kate (Laura Linney). The film sets up a pretty good cat-and-mouse chase, despite the fact that the president's right-hand men -- consisting only of chief of staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis) and two Secret Service guys (Scott Glenn and Dennis Hasybert) -- seem pretty easily duped and frazzled.

Eastwood films with his usual effortless pace, generating suspense practically out of thin air. E.G. Marshall co-stars as the respectable old Walter Sullivan, who may represent the last vestige of honor and decency in Washington (up to a point, anyway). And future Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins has a highly uncharacteristic role as a hired sniper. Eastwood had recently played a Secret Service man in In the Line of Fire (1993), and Dennis Hasybert went on to play the U.S. President in the TV series "24." Gene Hackman went on to play a retired U.S. president in the awful Welcome to Mooseport (2004). The film generated a small amount of controversy with its stereotypical depiction of a Chinese waiter.

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