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 Heroism: While he is still guilt-ridden in the book, Burton is much more willing to kill to protect his livelihood.
- 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. That said, Luther's burglary methods are arguably more crafty and elaborate in the book.
- Adaptational Modesty: The scene with Christy is more explicit in the book, to the point that she removes her panties entirely, with Luther having an unwanted look at her genitals. Here, they don't go nearly that far.
- Ambiguous Situation: At the end, it's unclear if Walter Sullivan murdered Richmond and made this look like suicide, or talked him into it.
- Asshole Victim: Richmond after getting killed by Walter in revenge for Christy's death.
- Attempted Rape: Richmond's consensual encounter with Christy turns into attempted rape after he slaps her around (apparently for fun) and she resists afterward.
- Boom, Headshot!: How Christy dies when the agents intervene in her attempted slaying of Richmond, who had become violent with her.
- Clear My Name: Luther is a prime suspect in the murder of Christy. Christy's husband is convinced that he did it and he hires a hitman to kill Luther.
- Composite Character: In the novel, Detective Frank is initially fooled by the conspiracy, and Luther's lawyer (Kate's love interest) has some of his role.
- Contrived Coincidence: Christy Sullivan is killed when a burglar happens to be in her house. Moreover, by pure coincidence, Gloria Russell, who does not know that there is actually a burglar in the house, suggests they should stage the crime scene to look like a burglary gone wrong.
- Death by Adaptation: Richmond does not die in the book. He's caught and convicted of murdering Christy later, getting the death penalty (while unlikely this will ever get carried out, because he's a former President.
- Driven to Suicide: Agent Burton kills himself out of guilt.
- Engrish: The Asian waiter at the restaurant where Luther meets Kate seems to be speaking a variant of this.
- Emasculated Cuckold: Because of his advanced age and his much younger wife's "needs", Walter Sullivan took to sitting in a chair and watched her from behind a two-way mirror in his bedroom when she was with other men. The whole thing was Christy's idea, and as he admits to Detective Seth Frank (who hates even having to ask him about the topic while investigating Christy's death as he deeply respects the man), he didn't enjoy it anyway.
- 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.
- Everyone Has Standards: Luther convinces Kate that he's telling her the truth about Richmond by swearing on her mother, as he knows that she will believe that he would never invoke her mother's name to sell a lie.
- Floating Head Syndrome: Clint's giant disconcerted face adorns the poster.
- Gentleman Thief: Luther is a charming thief who avoids violence and robs very rich people like Walter Sullivan. He exposes those responsible for the murder of Christy.
- Groin Attack: During Richmond's attempted rape of Christy, she painfully squeezes his dick in an attempt to fight him off.
- 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 hitman are assembling sniper rifles out of cases.
- Impersonating an Officer: Two snipers, each unaware of the other, try to shoot Luther when he arrives at an outdoor café to meet his daughter. They both miss, and Luther escapes through the police cordon wearing the uniform of a police officer he had hidden beneath his coat.
- Irony: Walter Sullivan married Christy because he wanted to ensure that his second wife would outlive him and not have to go through that kind of loss again. Christy is murdered by President Richmond when Walter himself is still alive and didn't even reach old age like his first wife.
- Killed Offscreen: President Richmond's death is made ambiguous by having the screen cut away just as Walter Sullivan walks in to meet with him. Sullivan has nothing other than revenge for his wife's murder on his mind, and Richmond's death is later reported on as an apparent suicide, the two options either being that A] Sullivan killed him with the letter opener (unlikely given that he's a fragile 80-year old man and Richmond is a stronger middle-aged man, albeit one recovering from an earlier knife wound), then passed it off as a suicide, or B] Sullivan managed to spurn Richmond into killing himself after their meeting with a very devastating "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- Kiss-Kiss-Slap: The slap was a bad idea, Mr. President.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Walter stabs Richmond (or talked him into suicide) with the same letter opener with which Christy attempted to defend herself.
- MayDecember Romance: After the death of his first wife, billionaire Walter Sullivan got remarried to a much younger woman. Because of his age he was unable to perform sexually, resulting in a bit of an open marriage while he watched. However, despite his fortune and the likelihood of her being a Gold Digger, he indicates that he genuinely did love her. Sullivan says he was drawn to Christy because, after the pain of losing his first wife, it was comforting to feel sure that his new wife would outlive him.
- 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.
- Missing Mom: Luther's wife, Kate's mother, died in the past. It becomes a plot point when Luther swears he's telling the truth about President Richmond by saying he's swearing to this on her grave. Kate knows he would never do that and lie, so it convinces her.
- 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).
- Papa Wolf: Luther, who's previously established as never using violence (he'd killed in the Korean War as a soldier, though not since then), kills Collin to protect his daughter Kate (whom Collin's about to murder).
- Pragmatic Adaptation: As described in depth in a chapter of William Goldman's book Which Lie Did I Tell?.
- President Evil: President Alan Richmond, while an upstanding man to the outside world, is in his private life a philanderer and serial abuser. When one of his escapades results in the accidental murder of a young woman, Richmond further resorts to cover it up and dispose of any witnesses to his crime.
- Professional Killer: Walter Sullivan hires a hitman to kill Luther, because he thinks Luther murdered his wife. The hitman misses his target.
- Race Lift:
- Gloria Russell in the book is part Native American. Here she's played by a wholly Caucasian actress.
- Both agents in the book are White. Here Collin is Black.
- 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.
- Scary Black Man: Agent Collin (played with chilling serenity by Dennis Haysbert) will serve his President, even if that means committing cold-blooded premeditated murder. His partner Agent Burton at least admits his disgust with what they've been forced to do openly, but Collin seems to have no such compunctions.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Luther and Sullivan aren't killed by the conspirators like in the book.
- Treachery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Richmond's affair with a married woman and his subsequent murder of her would have been bad enough by itself, but she was also the wife of Walter Sullivan, a life-long mentor of his who played a key role in getting him into the Presidency. When Luther eventually reveals the truth about Richmond's crime to Sullivan, he is horrified by the level of betrayal he didn't think Richmond capable of and personally visits him in the White House that same night to exact revenge.
- Villains Want Mercy: Collin attempts to kill Luther's daughter Kate because She Knows Too Much. When Luther foils this attempt by injecting him with a poisoned needle first:Agent Collin: Mercy!
Luther: I'm fresh out. [injects fatal dose]
- Wealthy Philanthropist: Water Sullivan has given over a billion dollars to charity, and when he bought and closed down the coal mine his father died from working in, he gave every miner $50,000 (in 1940's money) to retire on.
- Wham Shot: Alan Richmond being the President of the United States is revealed like this. Initially, the audience isn't aware who he is when Luther witnesses his affair with and murder of Christy Sullivan; the presence of his security staff hints that he's a high-placed person, but he's not formally introduced until a White House press conference when the camera pans up to reveal that the President is the same man who is responsible for the death of a young woman that night.