Monday, May 4, 2020

Kevin Costner Looks for a Way Out

Kevin Costner as Tom Farrell.
Unless you've seen No Way Out (1987) or The Big Clock (1948), be forewarned that this review will contain plot spoilers. The former film is a updated remake of the latter, with both films being based on the 1946 novel The Big Clock by author and poet Kenneth Fearing.

The 1987 adaptation stars Kevin Coster as Commander Tom Farrell, a Naval officer stationed in Washington, D.C., who has a torrid one-night stand with socialite Susan Atwell (Sean Young). They put their relationship on hold when he is deployed to the Philippines. When a heroic act gets Tom reassigned back to Washington, their affair heats up again. However, there is a problem: Susan is also the mistress of David Brice, the Secretary of Defense, who just happens to be Tom's boss at the Pentagon.

When Brice (Gene Hackman) discovers that Susan is seeing another man, he flies into a rage and accidentally kills her. Instead of going to the police, Brice confides in his right-hand man Scott Pritchard (Will Patton). Pritchard comes up with a plan to blame the murder on "the other man" and suggests he may be a Russian spy. He then assigns his most competent officer to conduct the investigation and find the killer. That turns out to be Farrell--who now has the unenvious task of framing himself for murder!

Gene Hackman as David Brice.
While No Way Out retains the basic premise of Fearing's novel, it makes major changes to the characters and setting. In the book and the 1948 film version, a wealthy publisher murders his mistress and assigns his best investigative reporter to uncover the murderer--not knowing that the reporter was seeing the same woman. The setting is New York City and, yes, there is a big clock. The bulk of the plot takes place inside the publisher's building.

Director Roger Donaldson "opens up" his film by setting most of it in the U.S. capital and taking advantage of the locations. From Susan's townhouse to the Pentagon to a foot chase through the streets, the city shines almost as brightly as Kevin Costner's white Navy uniform. The setting seems to inject a feeling of realism in what turns out to be a pretty far-fetched plot.

However, Donaldson and screenwriter Robert Garland also slow down the action by spending too much time on the affair between Tom and Susan. Their sizzling love scene in the back of a limousine--which incidentally features no nudity--gets their relationship off to a memorable start. However, Susan's murder doesn't occur until almost 45 minutes into the film. That's a long time before the audience reaches the central premise.

Sean Young as Susan Atwell.
While neither Costner nor Hackman are required to play complex characters, they are convincing in their roles. The standout, though, is Sean Young as the confused mistress whose underlying fear of Hackman's character keeps her from breaking off the affair earlier. Young's once-promising career derailed in the 1990s for a variety of reasons.

No Way Out opens and ends with framing scenes that culminate in what was intended to be a big twist. The twist doesn't add anything to the film, at least not now in the absence of a Cold War. Still, it doesn't detract from a fairly efficient thriller that relies on author Fearing's ingenious premise to carry the day.


  1. I haven't seen No Way Out since its release. I remember being entertained but it didn't maintain a hold on my imagination. I might like to revisit it. After all, to quote M from Casino Royale, "Christ, I miss the Cold War."

    1. That quote is one of my all time favorites. So true.

  2. I really liked No Way Out when it came out. I re-watched it many years later and, despite some "of its time" peculiarities (Sean Young's hair, for one) it held up. The final scene where Costner's character is playing cat-and-mouse with Will Patton's character through the halls and offices of the Pentagon is actually quite skillfully done. Donaldson is a quite competent director.

  3. I will watch Gene Hackman in anything, he can make any character human no matter what amount of depth they might've lacked in the script. And I will forever adore him as Lex Luthor. He certainly projected palpable menace in No Way Out. And Sean Young. I remember her most for this and Blade Runner. So beautiful and also very talented. Sad to see potential like hers go sideways.

    1. I had forgotten how good she was in this movie. You're right about her first-rate performance in BLADE RUNNER, too.

  4. I thought this was one of Hackman's weaker performances but I attribute that to the script rather than him. Costner and Young were fire. There were enough interesting moments here to overshadow some crazy plot goings on.

  5. I didn't realize this is a remake of The Big Clock. I think I need to see this because (A) Gene Hackman is always fab, and (B) I'm gaining a new appreciation for Kevin Costner's films.