No Way Out (1987) is now on Blu-ray!

no-way-out_bdNo Way Out, adapted from Kenneth Fearing’s classic suspense novel, The Big Clock (which I previously reviewed here), is a terrific thriller starring a young Kevin Costner and quirky and beautiful Sean Young as young lovers who get caught in a deadly love triangle with evergreen Gene Hackman. The setting is Washington DC, the time Reagan’s Cold War and 1980s Soviet paranoia provides a convenient cover for murder.

The following (re)review is offered as part of Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog and you should head over there to see the many other fascinating titles being offered.

“When’s he gonna come out from behind there?” – From the opening scene

The Premise
The film opens with a really elegant title sequence, an unbroken 3-minute helicopter shot over Washington that starts with the Capitol and ends at a small suburban home. The film proper then begins, perhaps as any self-respecting Neo-Noir should: with a mysterious sequence in which our hero (Costner) is in a smoky room being interrogated by a couple of goons while being observed through a two-way mirror. We then flash back to six months earlier, to the first meeting of Costner and Young at a stuffy reception where they both find themselves at odds with old-fashioned protocol. The two immediately hit it off, leading to some vigorous hanky-panky in the back of a limo, one of the most talked about (and parodied) scenes in the film. Young’s inherent cookiness comes through well, as does a surprising warmth and giddy vulnerability as she finds herself caught between her love for e Costner and her role as the mistress of David Brice, the (married) Secretary of Defence (Hackman), who is currently under pressure to sanction the development of a new ‘phantom sub’.

Costner is Tom Farrell, a rising Naval Officer who has just joined Brice’s staff through his friendship with his senior aide, Scott Pritchard (Will Patton). When Brice kills Susan in a jealous rage, this is particularly shocking as by this point we have really grown to like her. Indeed, the comparatively slow build-up in the film, which privileges Tom and Susan’s love story over the first third of the movie, today might seem a little slow but is crucial to our understanding of the films – and its mind-blowing final twist (about which more later).

Cold War Neo-Noir
After Susan dies, Brice turns to Pritchard, who delights in being able to come to his boss’ rescue and comes up with a plan – they will pretend that Susan was killed by ‘Yuri’, the codename given by the CIA to a Russian mole they think may have penetrated the Defence Department. They will use all their resources to frame Susan’s lover and turn to Tom to run the operation. In addition they hire a couple of killers to ensure the lover is eliminated, to make the frame fit and tie up any loose ends. This leads to several fine set-pieces within the Pentagon as Farrell is increasingly isolated by Pritchard, who realises Farrell won’t go along with his increasingly hysterical plan to cover up for Brice.

“This is insane, It’s out of control. Your cover story’s not going to hold water.”

The suspense builds up very carefully with the action taking over in the second half as Farrell is set to investigate the crime and find a fall guy (who, it turns out, is actually himself). It’s a great idea and is worked out very dynamically as Brice starts to crumble under the strain of hiding the murder and Pritchard, who is secretly in love with the politician, takes increasingly nasty measures to save him. In addition to its clever storyline (all taken from the novel, which otherwise has a completely different setting), this is a film with a really strong cast: Howard Duff is a wily old senator; Fred Dalton Thomson as the head of the CIA; Iman as Susan’s vulnerable friend; and best if all Will Patton, who gives a terrific performance as Pritchard. Watching him slowly unravel as the plan to save Brice gets more and more unlikely is a joy to behold. And then comes the end …

The twist ending
There are plenty of thrillers sold on the strength of their surprise endings, with the likes of  Psycho (1960), The Crying Game (1992) and The Usual Suspects (1995) becoming audience favourites with their ‘unguessable’ twist. In the case of No Way Out, this became a talking point as to many critics it seemed completely out of left-field. In theory, you could cut it out of the film as it all takes place at the end. But this is to miss the fact that it has been layered in throughout and more than adequately prepared for in terms of plot and theme – and it is also a nice little cherry on top, especially for those who have read the book or seen the 1948 film version, for whom this will be something brand new and unexpected. It makes viewing the film a second or third time even more enjoyable.

Video Availability: The new Blu-ray uses a decent if not stellar master that is nonetheless much, much better than any of the previous DVD releases and comes much closer to doing justice to the work of its British cinematographer, John Alcott, who died shortly after the end of shooting. While I am not a fan of Maurice Jarre’s music (not least because it recycles yet again the same spy theme he had used previously in Hitchcock’s Topaz (1969), Huston’s The Mackintosh Man (1973) and Eastwood’s Firefox (1982)), it does sound great on the Blu-ray. The only extra is a decent if stentorian audio commentary recorded in late 2015 with the director.

No Way Out (1987)
Director: Roger Donaldson
Producer: Laura Ziskin
Screenplay: Robert Garland (from the novel ‘The Big Clock’ by Kenneth Fearing)
Cinematography: John Alcott
Art Direction: Dennis Washington
Music: Maurice Jarre (and a song by Paul Anka)
Cast: Kevin Costner, Sean Young, Gene Hackman, Will Patton, Iman, Howard Duff, Fred Dalton Thomson, George Dzundza

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

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This entry was posted in Cold War, Espionage, Film Noir, Kenneth Fearing, Noir on Tuesday, Tuesday's Overlooked Film, Washington DC and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to No Way Out (1987) is now on Blu-ray!

  1. I’m always happy to hear it when fine films are re-released, Sergio. I’m no expert on the technology, but this one sounds as though it benefits a great deal from the Blu-Ray treatment, and that’s great. It’s a fine, taut story, and I’m to hear this news (and to read your thoughtful review, for which thanks).

  2. Colin says:

    I still prefer the ’48 version of this story but this has grown on me some and I do find enjoyable elements in prime era Costner, Young and, of course, Gene Hackman. The DVD was weak and I wasn’t aware of a BD release – one to upgrade at some point.

    • I wish it were not Region A locked but hopefully it will get picked up (hopefully Arrow is listening). I like them both equally because they worked so hard here to make it feel new. The director in the commentary says he had no idea it was a remake!

  3. le0pard13 says:

    Great news. I remember the twist ending drew a lot of criticism around these parts, even among fans. Always enjoyed it and saw the swerve still fitting the storyline, even if the cresting Costner acolytes didn’t want him to be…ummm…compromised. 😉

  4. Notice how Costner orders Stoli at the reception where he meets Young…

  5. Patti Abbott says:

    It’s been a long time since I saw this. Maybe it’s time.

  6. tracybham says:

    I will be watching this sometime soon. Looking forward to it.

  7. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have seen the film. It is a very good, suspenseful thriller and I agree with your rating of 4.
    However, I am critical of the end twist. It doesn’t connect with the film’s basic theme and gives it an unsatisfying conclusion with some loose ends.
    SPOILER ALERT
    The film shows the corruption of powerful people. We side with Tom Farrell who goes against the powerful people to ensure justice and we are highly satisfied that he succeeds despite overwhelming odds. But the twist ending negates the satisfaction.

    • I always felt that the ending had the advantage of telling us something we didn’t know but which had been hinted at and re-unforced he sense that even when not all motives are pure and no person truly, completely innocent, your take has to be relative. At the end I fell U know more about the character, not less – they all have secrets but all the feelings for each remain genuine, which in a spy movie that is always the only thing of real value (certainly in le Carre for instance). But I think many would share your concern Santosh – I quite like endings that sharply divide viewers 😀

  8. Todd Mason says:

    As you might remember, I saw this one on its first run in theaters. Not a favorite, and I could see the ending coming too easily…and I wasn’t convinced. I’ll give it this: it was less “profoundly” unbelievable than WAG THE DOG, which was praised extravagantly while this one was mostly slighted by reviewers on release, despite both demonstrating a profound naiveté, WAG’s that much greater (and vastly, vastly more smug). Similarly, the likes of TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING or THE PARALLAX VIEW. Then again, I quite enjoyed SALT, which played with similar materials with less an O My God sort of heavy-handed earnestness, it seemed to me. Much preferred THE BIG CLOCK the film, still need to read the Fearing.

    • Must admit, I thought SALT was a really dumb movie, well beyond my endurance level. You really saw the end of NO WAY OUT coming? I think you should pat yourself on the back, you are in a very small club mate! I enjoyed WAG THE DOG at the time but as a satire I used a different metric. PARALLAX and TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING certainly belong to that very despairing run of 70s movies. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN is the only one that I felt worked as a conspiracy movie with a viable positive ending, but then it helped that while the stakes were ultimately high, they weren’t initially perceived as such by the main people responsible. I always thought the scene with Walden as Segretti in which he likened it to college pranks as the most telling.

  9. neeru says:

    I agree entirely with you that the twist ending was the ‘cherry on the top’. The film itself was nail-biting and the end…well it took one’s breath away.

    • Thanks Neeru, glad you liked this one too – I really enjoyed watching it again and discovering that remembering the ending didn’t affect my enjoyment at all.

      • neeru says:

        Oh Sergio, there is another thing that we completely agree about: Will Patton, who gives quite a performance and for whom (believe it or not) I felt sorry. Yes, despite all that he does in the movie, his desperation at the end quite moved me.

        • Well, I I can see what you mean and would have to agree because clearly Brice deserves no sympathy at all as he has no love to give whereas the others are all losers in the end in this respect, which is said. And I think, because of the way the story turns at the end, that you end up feeling that he and Sarah are the only ones who were essentially being direct about their motives and feelings 🙂

  10. Sergio – I saw this in the movies when it first came out. I was not a Kevin Costner fan then. But now that he is older, I think his work is much more interesting – “McFarland, USA,” “Open Range,” “The Company Men.”

  11. Sergio, I like Kevin Costner in his early films and not so much in his later outings. I don’t see him or read about him much now. I have a feeling I have seen NO WAY OUT but I’d like to watch it again.

  12. I saw this in the cinema when it was first out, and enjoyed it very much, but hadn’t remembered the twist till now. Am also a fan (always) of Big Clock. Perhaps a double bill on the sofa on a cold winter afternoon is indicated!

  13. vinnieh says:

    For some reason I’ve never seen this, gotta change that now after reading this.

  14. Pingback: THE GETAWAY (1959) by Jim Thompson | Tipping My Fedora

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