No Way Out (1987) / Thriller-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for brief nudity, sexuality, violence, and language
Running Time: 114 min.

Cast: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton, Howard Duff, George Dzundza, Jason Bernard, Iman, Fred Dalton Thompson, David Paymer (cameo)
Director: Roger Donaldson
Screenplay: Robert Garland (based on the novel, "The Big Clock", by Kenneth Fearing)
Review published January 30, 2007

Kevin Costner (The Untouchables, American Flyers) stars as Lt. Cmdr. Tom Farrell, who, while at a party, meets Susan Atwell (Young, Blade Runner), an attractive woman that he ends up having a romantic affair with.  Though the two profess more than just lustful desires, they cannot quite become an item yet, as Atwell happens to also be the mistress of Defense Secretary David Brice (Hackman, Superman IV), who isn't likely to let go so easily.  One fateful evening, Atwell and Brice have a heated argument, which ends up resulting in Atwell's accidental death at Brice's hands.  After Brice remembers another man at the scene (in fact, it was Farrell, though it was too dark for Brice to know), he decides to launch a full-scale investigation in an effort to cover up his involvement in Atwell's death.  At the behest of Brice's faithful assistant, Scott Pritchard (Patton, The Postman), they decide that the rumored mole in the military, code-named "Yuri", is to be the one blamed for the deed.  In a bit of irony, Farrell is chosen to head up the investigation, though every piece of evidence that comes up seems to point to himself as the man on the scene on the night in question.

No Way Out may have plot holes that would sink most other thrillers of its ilk, but thanks to the the energy created by Donaldson's (The Bounty, Cocktail) direction and Costner's entertaining "everyman" performance, it still manages to properly engage from beginning to end for all lovers of tightly-wound thrillers.  Part of the reason the film engages is due to its clever plot device of having the protagonist try to keep himself from getting the blame for the deed, despite knowing that everything the investigative unit turns up will only be one more nail in his proverbial coffin.  The other major twist is that he knows full well the identity of the real killer, although, for reasons that are clear within the film, he cannot point the finger at without exposing too much of himself in the process.  This plot device is perhaps the only element actually extracted from the credited novel the film is based on, Kenneth Fearing's 1946 book, "The Big Clock", which was also previously made into a film in 1948.

Though many will feel that the film's ending, a very ambitious twist that some claim undermines everything that comes before, is superfluous and confusing, by the time it arrives, the entertainment quotient has already been met in order to call the film worthwhile.  Personally speaking, while others have knocked the final twist, I actually think it's refreshingly diabolical.  This is, after all, not a film about power, government, or the Cold War, as some people have wrongly assumed.  It's nothing more than an exploration in genre technique; playing the audience is its main goal.  The unexpected twist only confirms the intent of the creators on making it a mystery, and not the political thriller it had been marketed as.

No Way Out is the best kind of implausible thriller -- tense, fluid, and never lingers long enough to call it out as a crock.  Only the bland soundtrack (featuring a couple of terrible new songs by Paul Anka) and synthy score (from Academy Award winner Maurice Jarre (Dreamscape, Top Secret!) , no less) mars my overall enjoyment.  One of Costner's best performances, and also one of his most overlooked films.

 Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo