I enjoyed watching a Clint Eastwood movie the other night called “Absolute Power” – it’s a 1997 American political thriller produced by, directed by, and starring Clint Eastwood as a master jewel thief who witnesses the killing of a woman by Secret Service agents. I liked the fact that the story included a number of art-related and art historical elements, but in the end, they just didn’t add up.
Let’s take a look at Clint’s character first: Luther Whitney is a master jewel thief, but at the same time, he has a strong interest and appreciation for fine art. The movie opens with Clint in a museum (below left, with the brown shirt on), sitting in front of El Greco’s “St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata,” circa 1585-1590, and he’s working on a drawing, copying elements of the painting.
We later learn that Clint Eastwood’s character is so enamored of this El Greco painting, he’s been making sketches at the museum because he’s working on a full-blown copy of the canvas at his home (see below).
All right, so early on, we’re introduced to the idea that this master thief, Luther Whitney (Eastwood), has a deep appreciation for art history and master painters. But soon after, we watch Eastwood as his character breaks into a mansion, outsmarting the high-tech security system, and he makes his way upstairs to look for some loot. We see a number of paintings lining the walls of the stairway going up to the 2nd floor, and Eastwood pauses briefly in front of Rembrandt’s “Lucretia” (below left) – at this moment, I get excited, thinking: “he’s spotted a Rembrandt, and he’s going to steal it!” And while he reaches out to touch the frame, and takes a good look, he simply walks away and continues up the stairs.
When he reaches the top of the stairs, Eastwood’s character turns the corner, and walks right past John Singer Sargent’s “Lady Agnew,” and doesn’t even pause for a second! So what is he really after?
Our art-history-loving thief has decided to gloss over the art masterpieces and head to the bedroom, where he finds a secret closet filled with rare coins, expensive watches, and of course some jewelry … this is the good stuff, thinks Eastwood’s thief, so he pulls out his pillow case and loads up with the loot.
Later in the movie, it is mentioned that Eastwood’s theft amounted to $5 million dollars worth of loot and cash – hey, that’s definitely a great payday for one’s night work of thievery. But let’s think about the art that he passed up: granted, the Rembrandt in reality is in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art, and if stolen, would be almost impossible to sell except on the black market, but it would have to be worth at least several hundred million dollars. The Sargent painting is in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery, but would fall under the same circumstances if stolen: difficult to sell due to being an iconic work of art, but certainly worth millions on the black market (not nearly as valuable as the Rembrandt, though).
We can get down to the nitty gritty and say that the coins, watches and jewelry are probably easy to cash in on, and there’s nothing to sneeze about taking home $5 million. But for the sake of drama, fun, and entertainment, why not steal the Rembrandt? Get the loot and the Rembrandt too! Even if he didn’t try to sell it, an art-loving thief would probably enjoy having a Rembrandt hanging in the kitchen. Why not?
Oh well, despite the art-related discrepancies, it was a fun movie, and definitely worth watching.