Even the scenes with Kate, which one might expect to drip with the honeys of love and resentment, are pro forma. Kate has had nothing to do with Luther because of his life of crime, but, of course, that's just a front: She really craves a father. And Luther loves his daughter. We know this because Goldman hauls out that old chestnut of a scene where Kate finally visits Luther's apartment while he's away and discovers a shrine of her photos--including pictures of her at such events as her law school graduation, at which he supposedly was not even present. There's something a little creepy about Luther's surveillance-assisted shrine, but Eastwood encourages us to see it the way Kate does--as an expression of fatherly love. In the same way, we're supposed to think it's cute that he picks his way into her apartment while she's away and stocks her refrigerator. Just call him Stealth Dad.
For all its world-weariness, Absolute Power looks as if it were made by people who have never set foot in the real world. Luther, for example, is finally motivated to do the right thing when, postmurder, he watches the president on television gush his sympathies for his "good friend" and mentor Walter Sullivan. This presidential sound bite prompts from Luther one of those trademark out-of-the-blue Eastwood snarls: "You heartless whore, I'm not going to run from you." Is Luther so naive as to believe the president would pass up such a rich photo op? Or maybe Luther just doesn't watch TV all that much. (In one of the film's many "cute" humanizing touches, we earlier see him pick up a cassette of a televised football game from his friendly neighborhood bartender--it seems this master thief doesn't know how to program his VCR.)
The movie's unreality extends to the murder investigation. Even though the wife of a highly connected billionaire has been murdered, the police work spearheaded by Seth Frank seems more appropriate to a midlevel carjacking. He pokes around for clues and cozies up to Kate. (Both are conveniently unmarried live-alones.) He's a starstruck homicide detective in awe not only of Sullivan but of Luther--war hero and thief artiste. When the Secret Service, disguising its involvement, sends a guy over to homicide to "fix" the phones, Seth doesn't even think anything's fishy--even though the guy might as well be wearing a sign around his neck saying Wiretapper. And where is The Washington Post--or any other news outlet--in all of this? Goldman, having scripted All the President's Men, probably figured he'd had it with the Post, but the effect is creepy--as if a neutron bomb had neutralized the press corps.
Eastwood and Goldman are equally unworldly--and opportunistic--when it comes to their depiction of Sullivan. He may be as rich as Croesus and a presidential kingmaker, but, like Luther, he nevertheless must be depicted in the most flattering of lights. And so this old goat's marriage to a young chippy is presented as true love--at least on his side. In this way we are made to sympathize with Sullivan's hurts, just as we are made to sympathize with his vast wealth because he came from poverty and donates billions to charity and--a man after Luther's own heart--collects art. Original art. E.G. Marshall, who bears a remarkable resemblance here to Edmund Wilson, doesn't play Sullivan as some rheumy crank. He's gracious and upright. When Seth asks him about that one-way window in the vault, Sullivan volunteers that it was his wife's idea. She wanted him to watch her sexcapades, but his heart just wasn't in it. What a guy! All those billions, and he's not even a pervert!
Eastwood and Goldman probably think they are being fashionably "modern" in showing us a president who is distinctly unheroic and horrible. But the ploy just comes across as cynical. Alan Richmond is a generic bad politician without any political dimensions whatsoever. He has no identifying markers, no philosophy, no nothing. This must be one reason why Hackman gives such a cruddy performance--he's being called on to play a contourless crumbum. Saddled with an equally insulting role, Davis gives what must be her first terrible performance on film. In Baldacci's novel, the chief of staff was a ball-breaking power monger who wrapped her steel thighs around, for starters, Secret Service agents and the president. Eastwood has eliminated her lechery, but Davis, looking dazed and confused, still clings to the wreckage--she comes across as someone who is both neutered and in heat. Still, it's always fascinating when a great actor gives a terrible performance, and Davis' humdinger is more fun to watch than Eastwood's measured nothingness. When the Secret Service agent played by Scott Glenn tells her, "Every time I see your face, I want to rip your heart out," you know just what he means.