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Movie Review by Michael Goldberger

"Absolute Power"

3 Popcorns

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After an expressive day of sketching at the art museum, sixtyish but spry Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) goes back to his modest home and prepares dinner for one. Among the elegant accouterments accompanying this ritualistic repast are a good bottle of wine and a napkin ring.

Thusly, screenwriter William Goldman gives us a teasing glimpse into just what kind of a hairpin we're dealing with here. He is a dashing fiction. A romantic throwback to a bygone era when second-story men weren't simply content to loot. Back when robbery required personality and gentlemen cat burglars aspired to decidedly picaresque ideals.

But alas, dapper Luther Whitney lives in the cruel and crass present when we meet him, and the turn of events that embroils him in the derring-do that comprises Absolute Power doesn't allow much room for that honor-among-thieves stuff. Attempting a discreet withdrawal at the supposedly empty home of Washington, D.C.'s resident king maker (Walter Sullivan, astutely played by E.G. Marshall), the stakes are suddenly raised when he runs into some major league rats.

Whilst politely pilfering the most bounteous safe this side of Fort Knox, which just so happens to be located behind a two-way mirror, Luther suddenly becomes the invisible witness to a heinous crime. As it turns out, Walter's young wife didn't take off with influential hubby. Instead, she stayed home to betray her spouse with none other than you know who, played by Gene Hackman. To Luther's horror, he is dramatically compromised when the sordid affair goes awry. What to do, what to do?

At first blush, the burglar decides to preserve life and limb by taking it on the lam. But, you see, he is made of sterner stuff. A little while later he catches the chief creep on the tube as he sorrowfully describes his sadness at Mr. Sullivan's tragic loss. Luther's emotions demand a recount. He will stay and right this wrong.

Because Eastwood is so stylishly gallant as an actor, and so attuned to pace and perception as a director, most viewers will be out of the moviehouse and in the cafe before realizing just how much contrivance they've allowed the handsome gent to get away with. This filmic phenomenon he perpetrates has scientific as well as artistic reasons to explain it. But the express version, sans the critical gobbledygook, puts it all on one word: charm. Lots of it. Clint makes sure author David Baldacci's charismatic crook possesses plenty of quixotic panache. Just like the colorfully laconic protagonists Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler used to spawn.

A cat-and-mouse game ensues when the evil-doers realize they've been spied. In addition, Eastwood's beguiling scenario also manifests shoot-em-up tendencies, hints that it wouldn't mind being a bit of a thriller, and intimates that it has cornered a modicum of political savvy. But the intrigue level as translated from Mr. Baldacci's original prose by cinema scribe Goldman is only fair, held together by Clint and a fairly good supporting cast.

Scott Glenn is tops among the secondary, full of stolid, craggy-faced expression as Secret Service Officer Bill Burton. And Ed Harris is convincing enough as detective Seth Frank, who incidentally shows interest in Luther's estranged daughter (Laura Linney as Kate). In yet another side-bar, Mr. Whitney is trying to resurrect a relationship with dear daughter that has steadily deteriorated since Mom's death. Neither sub-plot rises above filler status.

Less credible but cynically appropriate is Judy Davis as Gloria Russell, President Alan Richmond's chief of staff. In her best three-piece-suit demeanor, callous Gloria is at the forefront of the combination cover-up/manhunt. Less authoritative and unfortunately lacking in dimension, Gene Hackman as the indecorous chief executive is still suitable for this film's limited purposes.

Which brings us back to Clint. It's his film, literally and figuratively. He's the linchpin in an entertaining but otherwise incomplete script that depends on its superstar for cogency. Following success as a middle-aged sex symbol in The Bridges of Madison County, Clint has vaulted right to the senior circuit. A virile, sagacious and sensitive soul for all generations. In Absolute Power, Mr. Eastwood's dashing anti-hero even kids about going to AARP meetings. More power to him.

* * * * *

Absolute Power, rated R, is a Castle Rock Entertainment release directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Clint Eastwood, Scott Glenn, and Judy Davis. Running time: 121 minutes

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