Film review: No Way Out

220px-No_Way_out No Way Out is a 1987 film that I enjoyed very much when I first saw it, and which I have recently watched again on DVD, many years later. It's an excellent film which stands the test of time extremely well;  I recommend it highly.

Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) is a naval officer who meets a woman at a Washington political party. After some repartee, they immediately begin an affair. He's assigned to the Philippines, but is soon recalled by his ex-college room-mate who is counsel to the Secretary for Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman), and offered a job. Farrell is a hero, and his appointment is more window-dressing than anything else, while Brice tries to stop a project to build a giant stealth submarine to spy on the Russians. Before much can happen, however, several shocking events and twists occur in quick succession, and Farrell is simultaneously running an investigation and hiding from it.

Not only is the plot of this film intelligent and exciting, but the film delivers on it, refusing the usual cop-out Hollywood ending (though there are a couple of cliches, for example when someone makes a secret appointment in a dark, isolated room to tell one other person of his suspicions). The context is also superbly convincing,with beautiful production values  perfectly capturing the Washington ambience. In particular Sean Young as the woman delivers a great performance, simultaneously Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, sophisticated, elegantly casual, vulnerable, witty and sexy. The second half of the film takes place in a basement incident room, where the technological advances since then would have destroyed a few of the tensions if applied now (waiting for a teleprinter or a scanner to deliver the goods). But the pace never lets up for a minute.

Kevin Costner plays an apparently straight-arrow officer perfectly. At the same time, the camera is deeply in love with his beauty, as shown by some of the earlier sequences on a boat in Chesapeake bay or when his girlfriend tries to take a photograph of one part of his anatomy but has to make do with another, to his amused embarrassment.  Costner's looks and physical grace are offset by the character of Scott Templeton, his old friend. At the start of the film, Scott looks normal. Yet when the pivotal event occurs, which is Scott's idea, he changes, and by the end of the film he is ugly, crazed and scary. He's overtly identified (by the head of the CIA) as being homosexual. Here is a (deliberate, I'm sure) paradox in the film: its extreme negative showing of the "labelled" homosexual character, and its intense romance with the clearly heterosexual, and did I say beautiful, Farrell.  Farrell, after his earlier scenes of romance, spends the rest of the movie in tightly fitting white uniform, which he has to change at least once, and the camera simply lingers on him all it can – but never at the expense of action and excitement. Marvellous – a film that has dated in all the right ways and none of the wrong ones. And it is one of those stories which, when the denouement comes, has one remembering back to many apparently innocent details, and realising what they actually signified.

The film is loosely based on the novel The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing, first published in 1946.  The book was made into a film of the same name in 1948, directed by John Farrow and starring Ray Milland. I don't think I have read the novel or seen the original movie; clearly the 1987 remake provides a very different setting from the original journalism context, but keeps the basic premise.

Over the years since 1987, I watched several other films starring Kevin Costner after seeing this one (unsurprisingly), but I don't think he ever subsequently matched his sheer physical perfection in No Way Out.

No Way Out at the IMDB.

Quotes from the movie (don't read unless you've seen it or don't mind spoilers).

New York Times review of the movie (contemporary to its 1987 release).

Some short videos from the movie.