Film / Absolute Power

Absolute Power is a 1997 film directed by Clint Eastwood. It is adapted from a 1996 political thriller novel by David Baldacci, with significant changes including omitting the novel's protagonist Jack Graham.

Luther Whitney (Eastwood) is a professional burglar looking for his next hit. He decides to target the mansion of elderly billionaire Walter Sullivan (E. G. Marshall), since Sullivan and his much younger wife Christy (Melora Hardin) are supposed to be vacationing. Instead the mansion is visited by Christy and her current lover, President Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman). Both are drunk and ready to mate, with Luther a reluctant peeping tom.

Richmond suddenly turns violent, inspiring Christy to grab a letter opener and turn it on him. Two agents of the Secret Service respond to their President's call for help. Agents Bill Burton (Scott Glenn) and Tim Collin (Dennis Haysbert) shoot the woman down. Then the trio and Chief of Staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis) arrange the scene to appear that an intruder killed her.

Luther escapes, but not unnoticed. He finds himself both suspected for the murder, and with a price on his head. He has to prove he had nothing to do with it. His only allies are his estranged daughter, prosecuting attorney Kate Whitney (Laura Linney), and police detective Seth Frank (Ed Harris), who knows something fishy is going on. Naturally the President wants them all dead.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Intelligence: In the book, Luther Whitney suffered from a case of Too Dumb to Live by trying to meet the conspirators in person. The movie makes him a lot more knowledgeable and clever, being able to expertly manipulate the conspirators into revealing themselves.
  • Asshole Victim: Richmond after getting killed by Walter in revenge for Christy's death.
  • Driven to Suicide: Agent Burton kills himself out of guilt. President Richmond's death is also passed off as suicide.
  • Engrish: The Asian waiter at the restaurant where Luther meets Kate seems to be speaking a variant of this.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Agent Burton might not be the most decent guy in the world, but he's certainly the most vocal objector to the actions of his employer.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Agent Collin gets a dose of his own poison.
  • Hypocrite: President Richmond. Luther is all set to keep his head down and flee the country until he watches a press conference Richmond delivers publicly commiserating with the husband of the woman he murdered without blinking an eyelid. Luther is so outraged by the barefaced hypocrisy that he decides to bring Richmond down instead.
  • IKEA Weaponry: Both Agent Collin and Sullivan's million-dollar hit-man are assembling sniper rifles out of cases.
  • Kiss-Kiss-Slap: The slap was a bad idea, Mr. President.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Walter stabs Richmond with the same letter opener with which Christy attempted to defend herself.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: From Seth's point-of-view a simple burglary and murder ends up pointing to wider political corruption, implicating high-ranking politicians.
  • Mood Whiplash: Things between Christy and Richmond very suddenly go from kinky and playful to downright terrifying and cringe-inducing.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Agent Collin. Or, at least "My President, right or wrong".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: A President involved in a scandal involving a sexual encounter? That sure sounds familiar.
  • Not My Driver: Whitney takes the place of Sullivan's driver so as to have the opportunity to explain how Christy really died.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Alan Richmond is a President Corrupt type, using United States Government resources to cover up an accidental death (and the abusive episode that triggered it).
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: As described in depth in a chapter of William Goldman's book Which Lie Did I Tell?.
  • President Evil: Alan Richmond.
  • Rear Window Witness: Luther is trapped in a special safe/closet with a one-way mirror when he witnesses the killing.
  • Right Place, Right Time, Wrong Reason: The American President having an affair with a married woman, the killing of his mistress by overzealous Secret Service agents, and the subsequent cover-up are uncovered by a burglar who was in the process of breaking into the house.