Picks and Pans Review: Absolute Power

UPDATED 02/17/1997 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/17/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Judy Davis

How reassuring to be able to count on Clint Eastwood, 66, to act his age onscreen. He doesn't woo women young enough to wear spandex, he doesn't perform superhuman stunts, and he has long since left the orangutans behind. In the best of his recent films, Unforgiven and In the Line of Fire, he plays weary, regretful fellows who've done it all, seen it all and been hoping for a little peace in their twilight years. Instead they're confronted with one last battle.

Absolute Power, a gripping thriller directed by Eastwood in his usual expeditious, unadorned style, fits right into this mold. Here, he plays a master thief who, one job away from retiring, breaks into a Washington power-broker's suburban mansion when its occupants are supposedly on vacation. While hidden behind a one-way mirror, he witnesses the U.S. President (Hackman) roughing up the lady of the house (Melora Hardin) during a sexual rendezvous. When she fights back, two Secret Service men burst into the bedroom and shoot her dead. A cover-up ensues, with Eastwood set up as the fall guy. Hey, fall on this. Not our Clint.

In adapting David Baldacci's best-selling novel, screenwriter William Goldman has retained (with one big exception) the book's major characters, while jettisoning its overbusy final chapters. The movie is better for the changes, though it at times strains credulity and its ending is a tad confusing. Eastwood surrounds himself with top-notch supporting players, all of whom perform laudably, except the normally redoubtable Davis. Cast as a high-ranking presidential aide with a crush on her boss, she sashays about and flares her nostrils as if auditioning for Cruella DeVil in a 101 Dalmatians sequel. (R)

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