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 byClint Eastwood
Produced by
  • Clint Eastwood
  • Karen S. Spiegel
Screenplay byWilliam Goldman
Based onAbsolute Power
by David Baldacci
Music byLennie Niehaus
CinematographyJack N. Green
Edited byJoel Cox
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 14, 1997 (1997-02-14) (USA)
Running time
121 minutes
CountryUnited States
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.[2] The screenplay by William Goldman is based on the 1996 novel Absolute Power by David Baldacci. Screened at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival,[3] 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 inside a large bedroom vault with a one-way mirror, Luther watches as Richmond becomes sexually violent towards Christy and she attacks him with a letter opener in self-defense. Richmond screams for help, and Secret Service agents Bill Burton (Scott Glenn) and Tim Collin (Dennis Haysbert) burst into the bedroom and shoot Christy to death. Chief of Staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis) arrives, and they agree to stage the scene to look like a burglary gone wrong. They are unaware of Luther until he begins his escape. Both agents chase Luther, but he escapes with millions in jewelry, collectible coins and cash as well as the incriminating 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 master thief, but Frank does not believe Luther is a murderer. 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 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 Collins prepares a sniping attack. 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. They both miss, and Luther escapes through the police cordon wearing the uniform of a police officer he had hidden beneath his coat. Luther later explains to Kate exactly how Christy was killed and by whom.

Luther begins to taunt Russell, first by sending her a photograph of the letter opener, then tricking her into wearing Christie's diamond necklace during a public event at the White House. Correctly suspecting that Kate knows the truth, President Richmond decides she must be eliminated. When Luther learns from Detective Frank that the Secret Service has taken over surveillance of Kate, he races back to Washington D.C. to protect her. He arrives at her jogging area 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 with a poison-filled syringe. Luther, who is waiting for such an attack, subdues Collin by jabbing him in the neck with a syringe of his own. Collin pleads for mercy, but Luther instead delivers a fatal dose.

Luther incapacitates Walter's chauffeur and replaces him, telling Walter what happened on the night his wife was killed. Walter is unconvinced until Luther explains how Richmond lied in his 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 he had stolen.

Luther stops the car and hands over the letter opener, dropping off Walter outside the White House. Walter, who is absolutely trusted by everyone in the White House, is able to get through security with the letter opener 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 television the next morning comes the shocking news by Walter that the President committed suicide by stabbing himself to death (it is left unrevealed if Richmond committed suicide or if Walter killed him). Luther is satisfied that justice has prevailed, and he is happy his daughter is safe and they are no longer estranged.

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 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?.[4]

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."[5] 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
  • Perry Point Hospital, Perryville,MD
  • USAir Arena, Landover, Maryland
  • Washington DC (including Christopher Hitchens' apartment[6])
  • Watergate Hotel, Washington DC[7][8]


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."[9]

On the aggregate reviewer web site Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 47% positive rating from top film critics based on 43 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.

1."Katie's Theme"Lennie Niehaus2:07
2."Mansion"Lennie Niehaus1:32
3."Christy Dies"Lennie Niehaus2:28
4."Mansion Chase"Lennie Niehaus4:34
5."Christy's Dance"Lennie Niehaus3:42
6."Waiting for Luther/Wait for My Signal"Lennie Niehaus6:58
7."Dr. Kevorkian I Presume"Lennie Niehaus1:44
8."Sullivan's Revenge"Lennie Niehaus2:19
9."Katie's Theme/End Credits"Lennie Niehaus4:42
Total length:29:54[10]


  1. ^ Box Office Mojo Retrieved March 2, 2014
  2. ^ "Clint Eastwood Is Returning to Acting". MovieWeb. 2017-05-21. Retrieved 2017-10-13.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Absolute Power". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
  4. ^ Goldman, William, Which Lie Did I Tell?, Bloomsbury, 2000 p 97-127
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Christopher Hitchens Article". Times Literary Database. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  7. ^ "Filming locations for Absolute Power". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  8. ^ Hughes, p.179
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 14, 1997). "Absolute Power: A Whole New Meaning for Executive Privilege". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2012.
  10. ^ Absolute Power Soundtrack AllMusic. Retrieved March 2, 2014

External links[edit]