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Clint Eastwood, “Absolute Power” (1997).

One may not agree with Clint Eastwood’s politics, but he could have at least entertained me with Absolute Power. Despite its being a gleefully anti-liberal tract, Dirty Harry still kept me rooting for Clint’s wronged cop who has no choice but to go outside the law. In Absolute Power, he’s still looking in; he plays a master thief who breaks into a mansion only to be witness to a crime committed by the philandering President of the United States (Gene Hackman). Somehow the Chief of Staff (Judy Davis) is on the premises and starts a coverup, leaving Clint as the unreliable whistle-blower.

It should have all worked, despite the ludicrous screenplay written by a disappointing William Goldman: the cast, for starters, also includes Ed Harris as the investigator and Laura Linney as the thief’s daughter. Given this, it’s difficult to see why the film became such an absolute waste of talent. But no one seemed to be having fun, and neither was I; the supposedly nailbiting scenes (the public rendezvous, surrounded by assassins; the murder attempt at the hospital — sound familiar?) had a tired feel to them, as if the filmmakers knew we had seen them before in countless other flicks and couldn’t be bothered to add a little spice. For all his supposed absolute power, Hackman isn’t given much material to strut his stuff with, and he remains an unconvincing opponent. Given all the plot’s numerous cliches, Eastwood could have at least let all his cast members chew a bit of the scenery, but no such luck. Much of the film can be distilled to a scene early on as Eastwood witnesses the crime: the camera focuses on his great, craggy face, and throughout the whole scene, his eyebrows knot — just once — and he remains impassive, as does the rest of the film. Perhaps Eastwood thought his wrinkles alone could carry the movie, but no.

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