Absolute Power (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Clint Eastwood|
|Screenplay by||William Goldman|
|Based on||Absolute Power
by David Baldacci
|Music by||Lennie Niehaus|
|Cinematography||Jack N. Green|
|Editing by||Joel Cox|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||121 minutes|
Absolute Power is a 1997 American political thriller film produced by, directed by, and starring Clint Eastwood as a master jewel thief who witnesses the killing of a woman by Secret Service agents. The screenplay by William Goldman is based on the 1996 novel Absolute Power by David Baldacci. Screened at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, the film also stars Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Judy Davis and Scott Glenn. It was also the last screen appearance of E.G. Marshall.
During the course of a burglary, master jewel thief Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) witnesses the killing of Christy Sullivan (Melora Hardin), the beautiful young wife of elderly billionaire Walter Sullivan (E.G. Marshall), during her drunken rendezvous with Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman), the President of the United States. Walter Sullivan is Richmond's friend and financial supporter.
Hiding behind a one-way mirror, Luther watches as Richmond sadistically slaps Christy and tries to strangle her. When she attacks him with a letter opener, Secret Service agents Bill Burton (Scott Glenn) and Tim Collin (Dennis Haysbert) shoot her to death. Chief of Staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis) arrives and makes the scene appear as if a burglar killed Sullivan's wife. Luther escapes with some valuables as well as the bloody letter opener.
The next day, Detective Seth Frank (Ed Harris) begins his investigation of the crime. Luther quickly becomes a prime suspect in the burglary because of his reputation as a thief, but Frank does not believe it likely he murdered Christy. Just as Luther is about to flee the country, he sees President Richmond on television, vowing to find the murderer. Incensed by this hypocrisy, Luther decides to bring the president to justice. Meanwhile, Burton asks Frank to keep him informed about the case while a Secret Service agent wiretaps Frank's office telephone.
Luther's estranged daughter Kate (Laura Linney), who works as a prosecutor, accompanies Detective Frank to Luther's home to search for clues. Photographs in the house indicate that Luther has secretly been watching her for years. She still suspects Luther of the crime, and therefore agrees to set him up. Frank guarantees Luther's safety, but through the wiretap Burton learns of the plan. Someone also tips off Sullivan, who hires a hitman (Richard Jenkins) to kill Luther.
The two snipers, each unaware of the other, try to shoot Luther when he arrives at an outdoor cafe to meet his daughter. But they both miss, and Luther escapes through the police cordon because he came prepared, wearing the uniform of a police officer beneath his coat. Luther later explains to Kate exactly how Christy was killed, and by whom.
Luther begins to taunt Chief of Staff Russell, first by sending her a photograph of the letter opener, then tricking her into wearing Christy's necklace in public. Correctly suspecting that Kate knows the truth, President Richmond elects to have her killed. Luther learns from Detective Frank that the Secret Service has taken over surveillance of Kate, so races back to Washington D.C. to protect her. He arrives at her jogging path just moments after Collin has used his SUV to push her and her car off a cliff.
Collin tries to kill her again at the hospital, approaching her bed with a poison-filled syringe. Luther is waiting this time. He subdues the Secret Service agent by jabbing him in the neck with a syringe of his own, forcing Collin to drop his. Collin pleads for mercy, but Luther says he's "fresh out," delivering a fatal dose.
Luther finds out that Sullivan gave no reason publicly why Christy stayed home—she had claimed to her husband, and to him only, that she was sick—so he incapacitates Sullivan's chauffeur and replaces him, telling Sullivan what happened on the night of the murder. Sullivan is unconvinced until Luther explains how the president incriminated himself in a speech by citing Christy's excuse for staying home, which he could only have learned from her. Luther shows Sullivan the letter opener that was used to stab the president, with his blood and fingerprints on it.
Luther stops the car and hands over the letter opener, dropping off Sullivan outside the White House. The trusted Sullivan is able to get through security with it and enter the Oval Office. After arriving at the White House, Sullivan tells Luther that he never stopped loving Christy.
Meanwhile, alerted by Luther that his phones have been bugged, Frank discovers that a remorseful Burton has committed suicide. Frank uses the evidence Burton left behind to arrest Russell. On the television news, there is the shocking news, "confirmed" by Sullivan, that the President has committed suicide by stabbing himself to death. Luther is happy to know that Sullivan got justice after all.
Back at the hospital, sketching on a pad, Luther watches over Kate in her hospital bed. Detective Frank visits briefly, whereupon Luther suggests to Kate that she invite Frank to supper sometime, and then continues to draw a new picture of the daughter he loves.
- Clint Eastwood as Luther Whitney
- Gene Hackman as President Alan Richmond
- Ed Harris as Detective Seth Frank
- Laura Linney as Kate Whitney
- Scott Glenn as Agent Bill Burton
- Dennis Haysbert as Agent Tim Collin
- Judy Davis as Chief of Staff Gloria Russell
- E. G. Marshall as Walter Sullivan
- Melora Hardin as Christy Sullivan
- Kenneth Welsh as Sandy Lord
- Penny Johnson as Laura Simon
- Richard Jenkins as Michael McCarty
- Mark Margolis as Red Brandsford
- Elaine Kagan as Valerie
The worldwide book and movie rights to the novel were sold for a reported $5 million. William Goldman was hired to write the screenplay in late 1994. He worked on several drafts through 1995, which he later described in his memoir Which Lie Did I Tell?.
When Eastwood first heard about turning the book into a film, he liked the characters and the basic plot, but disliked the fact that most of whom he considered the interesting characters were killed off. He requested that Goldman make sure that "everyone the audience likes doesn't get killed off." Absolute Power was filmed between June and July 1996 in the following locations:
- Baltimore, Maryland (suburbs)
- Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC (museum scenes)
- Elk Neck State Park, Turkey Point Road, North East, Maryland
- Los Angeles, California
- Maryvale Preparatory School, Brooklandville, Maryland
- Towson, Maryland
- Washington DC (including Christopher Hitchens apartment)
- Watergate Hotel, Washington DC
Differences between book and film
- The main protagonist in the novel is a young lawyer named Jack Graham, a good friend of Luther's and his daughter Kate's ex-boyfriend. He was completely omitted in the film adaptation.
- The physical features of the characters in the novel are significantly different than in the film: President Richmond is much younger (described as being in his early 40s), Gloria Russell is younger as well (37 years old), Agent Collin is caucasian as opposed to being African-American in the film, and Walter Sullivan is slightly older in the book than in the film.
- In the book Luther is caught by police instead of escaping when the snipers bungle their attempt to shoot him at his meeting with Kate, and then he is killed by Agent Collin while being brought into the courthouse for his arraignment.
- Walter Sullivan is killed two-thirds of the way through the book by Agent Burton after the president realizes that Sullivan has figured out, from the president's slip of the tongue about why Christy didn't go to Barbados, that the president was involved in her death.
- The novel's end is entirely different from that of the film: President Richmond is impeached and receives the death penalty, Gloria Russell receives 10 years probation rather than prison time in exchange for testifying against the president in court, Agent Collin is sentenced to 20 years in prison instead of being injected with poison by Luther, Agent Burton commits suicide in his home rather than his office, and Kate is not forced over a cliff in her car in the novel, but leaves Washington, D. C. and moves to Atlanta, Georgia.
In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin gave it a mixed review, writing, "Mr. Eastwood directs a sensible-looking genre film with smooth expertise, but its plot is quietly berserk." Maslin goes on to write, "Mr. Eastwood's own performance sets a high-water mark for laconic intelligence and makes the star seem youthfully spry by joking so much about his age."
On the aggregate reviewer web site Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 45% positive rating from top film critics based on 42 reviews, and a 52% positive audience rating based on 30,982 reviews.
The film was not a box office success domestically, grossing $16,770,220 on its opening weekend. The film earned a total domestic box office gross of $50,068,310, barely recouping its $50 million budget.
- "Festival de Cannes: Absolute Power". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
- Goldman, William, Which Lie Did I Tell?, Bloomsbury, 2000 p 97-127
- Blair, Iain (March 1997). "Clint Eastwood: The Actor-Director Reflects on His Continuing Career and New Film, Absolute Power". Film & Video 14 (3): 70–78.
- "Christopher Hitchens Article". Times Literary Database. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
- "Filming locations for Absolute Power". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- Hughes, p.179
- Baldacci, Absolute Power, Ch. 11
- Maslin, Janet (February 14, 1997). "Absolute Power: A Whole New Meaning for Executive Privilege". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2012.
- Absolute Power at the Internet Movie Database
- Absolute Power at the TCM Movie Database
- Absolute Power at allmovie
- Absolute Power at Rotten Tomatoes
- Absolute Power at Box Office Mojo