Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) is a professional thief, a cat burglar who has been in an out of prison but never kicked his desire to break into big houses and help himself to the valuables therein. Tonight he has his latest escapade all planned out, he will raid the mansion of millionaire philanthropist Walter Sullivan (E.G. Marshall) by disabling his home security system and creeping upstairs in the dark to see what precious jewels and coins he has in his possession, which will soon be in Whitney's possession. However, as he rifles through the drawers, he is interrupted: he did not expect anyone to be there, yet a couple enter the bedroom he is in and he must hide behind a two-way mirror, keeping very quiet as a terrible event unfolds...
Clint Eastwood was proving he could still direct and indeed star in action thrillers with Absolute Power, an adaptation of David Baldacci's potboiler novel which had a screenplay penned by William Goldman, also proving his worth in the field at his advanced age, or that was the idea. Eastwood had his next thriller, True Crime, to come before he settled into what were largely dramas, but on this evidence he wasn't planning to strain himself to create the suspense, as a more leisurely paced effort you would be unlikely to imagine, especially for one that you expected to be delivering at least some degree of excitement. The sense of this as a far more relaxed experience than intended was difficult to shake.
It was a plot born from the sexual shenanigans of then-President of the United States Bill Clinton who had been accused of various dodgy exploits by his political enemies, and had admitted at least one affair, all of which served as a distraction from perhaps more important issues that would have been better debated. What if the President was so dodgy that he caused a murder was a storyline that may have sounded a bit too silly back then, but for an airport novel it was bread and butter, and the movies followed suit - Murder at 1600 was another example from the same year - though perhaps as the twenty-first century progressed it was an idea whose time had come judging by who succeeded Barack Obama to the White House.
The evil President in this case was Richmond, played by Gene Hackman as one of his many men of authority with darker sides, and when Whitney is secreted behind that full-length mirrored wall, he witnesses (Whitney-sses?) the leader of the free world about to have sex with Sullivan's wife (Melora Hardin), but then things turn nasty and he attacks her, grabbing her by the... throat and choking her. She retaliates with a letter opener, and is about to stab the most powerful man in America when the two secret service agents (Dennis Haysbert and Scott Glenn) burst in and shoot her in the head. Implausible back then, but maybe not so much now. Anyway, a cover-up operation is organised to conceal the fact, only there is one detail left hanging: they were not able to catch Whitney, and he has gotten away.
He makes plans to flee, but when he sees Richmond on the television crying crocodile tears he gets very cross and vows to bring the bastard down, leading us lightly into conspiracy movie territory and to prove it there's a sequence with not one but two snipers in it, a doubling up of that staple scene of the genre. This burbled along sleepily, rousing itself for the occasional burst of action though it could hardly be called an action movie, as Eastwood appeared to be targeting the sort of moviegoer who is retired and likes to spend an afternoon at the cinema every week, which was perfectly fine of course, but you had the impression there would be a lot of snoring in the auditorium by the time the end credits rolled. What might have woken them up is Judy Davis as the Chief of Staff who orchestrates the cover story and tries to get Whitney, then his estranged daughter (Laura Linney) killed: she was absurdly hammy in a manner that suggested this respected actress had taken leave of her senses. Aside from that, no real surprises. Music by Lennie Niehaus.
Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.
Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys and American Sniper to his name.