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Monthly Archives: August 1987

No Way Out (1987)

DIRECTOR: Roger Donaldson

CAST: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton, George Dzundza, Howard Duff, Fred Dalton Thompson, Jason Bernard, Iman

REVIEW:

No Way Out stands in worthy company alongside other ’80s and early ’90s thriller such as Narrow Margin (also featuring Gene Hackman): meat-and-potatoes thrillers that deliver enough mounting tension and suspense to override some plot contrivances and unlikelihoods.

Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) is a Naval officer newly assigned to work for Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman).  But Farrell and Brice share more than an office: Farrell has started a steamy clandestine affair with Susan Atwell (Sean Young), who does double duty as Brice’s mistress. And when Brice gets wind of another man and accidentally kills her in a jealous rage, Brice’s fanatically loyal aid Scott Pritchard (Will Patton) orchestrates a cover-up under the guise of a secret investigation, scapegoating “Yuri”, a long-rumored, never-seen Soviet spy who can pass as an American and has infiltrated the Pentagon, as Susan’s killer.  The plan seems perfect: the investigation is hunting a ghost.  But Farrell finds himself being steadily sucked into a downward spiral of trouble the closer the investigation comes to identifying him, Susan’s secret lover, as the suspect in her death.

No Way Out borrows a page or two from Hitchcock in the way it continually ups the ante.  Things start slowly for the first half hour or so, as we see Farrell in hot-and-heavy bliss with Susan.  Then Ms. Atwell makes her exit, and Farrell is trapped in an impossible situation, helping run an investigation that will lead to his own destruction (unless he can steer it off course), that seems to have, as the title states, “no way out”.

Kevin Costner gives (by his standards) a forceful and energetic performance, probably one of his best, although the material isn’t long on character development (the characters are pawns in the unwinding plot that none of them quite has a complete grip on, even when they think they do).  Farrell is a tricky character; since he knows something no one around him knows, and wants to keep it that way, Costner always has to stay stoic and collected, but also project the tension building minute by minute as he feels increasingly trapped.  Gene Hackman is his usual reliable self as Brice, but other than the big “Susan’s demise” scene, he doesn’t have all that much to do.  Brice isn’t “evil”, so much as weak; he comes crawling miserably to Scott like a little boy who made a mess and wants it cleaned up before Daddy finds out (incidentally, Hackman plays a virtually identical character years later in the Clint Eastwood thriller Absolute Power).  Will Patton’s obsessively devoted aid is the real villain of the movie, and dives right in with a kind of hyper-efficient glee bubbling beneath his self-righteous unctuousness, going off on his own little power trip while masterminding a cover-up to protect the boss he worships.  The throwaway bit of dialogue in which Scott is revealed to be gay is a bit of a homophobic cheap shot (typical of ’70s and ’80s thrillers in which homosexuals, if they appeared, were invariably the villains), but it certainly gives insight into his devotion to Brice.  Sean Young is adequate in her limited screentime, and we have George Dzundza as a friend of Farrell’s, and Howard Duff and Fred Dalton Thompson as Washington rivals of Brice and Iman (Mrs. David Bowie) as a friend of Susan’s.

Director Roger Donaldson and cinematographer John Alcott (on his last film, which is dedicated to his memory) make the halls of the Pentagon a labrynthine maze that seems to grow more claustrophobic as time goes on.  Like good thrillers, if every detail doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, it at least gives enough steadily rising tension that we don’t take too much notice.  The only inadvertant source of humor is two Prichard-hired mercenaries (Marshall Bell and Chris D.), who are about the most buffoonishly goofy-looking pair who could have been cast (the fact that Chris D. runs like a frantic bird trying to take flight doesn’t help take him any more seriously, especially since he does quite a bit of running).

Setting up fast-paced twisty-turny intrigue within walls that inexorably close in on the main character, No Way Out is a solid ’80s thriller in the Hitchcockian tradition, and stick around for the epilogue, which supplies a surprise twist curveball, even though, as left-field as it seems, once you think back through the movie, the clues pointing to it were scattered along the way.  Continue reading

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