Absolute Power (film)

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Absolute Power
A angry man looks to the viewer while the US Secret Service logo and a dead woman is in the bottom with the film's title
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by
  • Clint Eastwood
  • Karen S. Spiegel
Screenplay by William Goldman
Based on Absolute Power
by David Baldacci
Music by Lennie Niehaus
Cinematography Jack N. Green
Edited by Joel Cox
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 14, 1997 (1997-02-14) (USA)
Running time
121 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $50 million
Box office $50.1 million[1]

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,[2] the film also stars Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Judy Davis, Scott Glenn and Dennis Haysbert. It was also the last screen appearance of E. G. Marshall.


During the course of a burglary, master jewel thief Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) is forced to hide upon the unexpected arrival 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 and the owner of the mansion Luther has broken into.

Hiding behind a one-way mirror, Luther watches as Richmond becomes sexually violent towards Christy when he playfully slaps her across the face. When she retaliates by slapping him back, Richmond becomes angry and aggressively assaults her. When she attacks him with a letter opener in self-defense, 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. As Tim had noted Luther's license plate number during the chase, 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, publicly commiserating with Walter on his loss. Incensed by the fake sympathy, 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 and Collin says that he will kill Luther at the cafe. Someone also tips off Walter, 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 he 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, who lies in waiting, subdues Collin by jabbing him in the neck with a syringe of his own. 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; on the night of her murder, Christy said to Richmond that she told Walter she was sick. He incapacitates Walter's chauffeur and replaces him, telling Walter what happened on the night of the murder. Walter is unconvinced until Luther explains how Richmond lied in a speech by citing Christy's excuse for staying home, which he could only have learned from her. He shows Walter the letter opener with Richmond's blood and fingerprints on it, and also informs him that he has since returned the items stolen the night his wife was killed.

Luther stops the car and hands over the letter opener, dropping off Walter outside the White House. A trusted Walter is able to get through security with it and enter the Oval Office. Meanwhile, alerted by Luther that his phones have been bugged, Frank discovers that a remorseful Burton has committed suicide, and uses the evidence Burton left behind to arrest Russell. On the television news in the next morning comes the shocking news, "confirmed" by Walter, that the President has committed suicide by stabbing himself to death. Luther is happy to know that Walter 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 dinner sometime, and then continues to draw a new picture of his daughter.



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?.[3]

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 those he considered the interesting characters were killed off. He requested that Goldman make sure that "everyone the audience likes doesn't get killed off."[4] Absolute Power was filmed between June and August 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
  • USAir Arena, Landover, Maryland
  • Washington DC (including Christopher Hitchens' apartment[5])
  • Watergate Hotel, Washington DC[6][7]


Critical reception[edit]

Absolute Power was met with mixed reviews from critics. 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."[8]

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.

Box office[edit]

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.


The soundtrack to Absolute Power was released on March 11, 1997.

No. Title Artist Length
1. "Katie's Theme" Lennie Niehaus 2:07
2. "Mansion" Lennie Niehaus 1:32
3. "Christy Dies" Lennie Niehaus 2:28
4. "Mansion Chase" Lennie Niehaus 4:34
5. "Christy's Dance" Lennie Niehaus 3:42
6. "Waiting for Luther/Wait for My Signal" Lennie Niehaus 6:58
7. "Dr. Kevorkian I Presume" Lennie Niehaus 1:44
8. "Sullivan's Revenge" Lennie Niehaus 2:19
9. "Katie's Theme/End Credits" Lennie Niehaus 4:42
Total length: 29:54[9]


  1. ^ Box Office Mojo Retrieved March 2, 2014
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Absolute Power". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved September 27, 2009. 
  3. ^ Goldman, William, Which Lie Did I Tell?, Bloomsbury, 2000 p 97-127
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ "Christopher Hitchens Article". Times Literary Database. Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Filming locations for Absolute Power". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 29, 2012. 
  7. ^ Hughes, p.179
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 14, 1997). "Absolute Power: A Whole New Meaning for Executive Privilege". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2012. 
  9. ^ Absolute Power Soundtrack AllMusic. Retrieved March 2, 2014

External links[edit]