No Way Out (1987)

20 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In a list of what I think are the most compelling thrillers to come out of the 1980s (which would also include “Witness,” “Blood Simple,” and “Jagged Edge,” among others), 1987’s “No Way Out” would definitely be in a high ranking. This film has so many twists and turns in a story that started out simple and progressed to be anything but. The result is an engaging, complicated thriller that is well-acted and engrossing.

Kevin Costner stars as US Navy Lt. Tom Farrell, who is being interrogated by government agents for reasons that will be revealed to us as the main story is told in flashback. Six months earlier, we see him at a diplomatic reception party to meet the secretary of defense, David Brice (Gene Hackman), as he is introduced by his dutiful assistant, Scott Pritchard (Will Patton), who is friends with Farrell. Farrell also strikes up an encounter with a sexy young woman, Susan Atwell (Sean Young), and the two start an affair, even though she is involved with someone else. After Farrell becomes a hero on his next Naval deployment, he is then assigned to work at the Pentagon in Washington for Brice.

Here is where a few of those said-twists begin, and I’ll just reveal only a couple of them for the story’s setup. First of all, it turns out that Susan is actually Brice’s mistress. This leads to the night in which Brice pays her a surprise visit, as Farrell sneaks out the back door before he enters. Brice does notice him walking away, but doesn’t make him out in the dark. Brice demands to know who Susan is seeing, and in a violent rage, winds up killing her. So when Farrell learns of her death, he knows who the culprit is. But he can’t reveal Brice’s name to anybody because A) Brice, with the help of Pritchard, is already covering up the murder by using the rumored identity of a Soviet spy. B) Evidence is going to come back to Farrell, especially after finding a negative Polaroid picture in Susan’s place that could reveal him. And C) Farrell is put in charge of the investigation.

Whew! That’s a hell of a buildup, and it’s only the beginning of the story that has Farrell continually trying to slow down the investigation and find some way to preserve some things he learns about his fellow investigators in order to use them to his advantage, all while setting out to find a way to prove Brice’s guilt and Pritchard’s accessory. The twists don’t stop there, so I haven’t given away too much. “No Way Out” is a compelling mystery that gets more interesting as it goes along, and the more it continues with the story, the more I wound up caring about the characters involved.

The acting is great in this film. Kevin Costner is solid in the lead role and it’s quite complicated to pull off—an innocent man who has a lot of evidence leading back to him and is about to be wrongfully accused of a murder. Unless he can do something about it with his wits and intelligence, he’s a dead man. Costner and Sean Young share good chemistry together, and Young has a good amount of spunk that makes us care for her and not see her so much as a plot device. Gene Hackman is top-notch as usual. Will Patton is excellent as Pritchard, who says he’ll do anything for the secretary of defense, and yet because of yet another twist, we realize there’s probably more to it than that with him. Also terrific is George Dzundza as a wheelchair-bound computer expert whom Costner has to trust without saying too much about the mystery.

There is an even bigger twist that comes near the end that makes us question everything we’ve seen before. This is one that you either buy or you don’t. I did, and I watched the film again immediately after just so I could fully get everything that was shown to me before. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

“No Way Out” is a successful thriller that keeps you on edge all the way through until that final twist. It starts out simple and works its way up to a complicated puzzle that puts the hero’s life at risk, as well as the lives around him. The setup is incredible, the story continues to be investing, the cast is across-the-board solid, and there are enough twists to keep you interested throughout.

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