Movie Reviews

Movie Review: No Way Out (1987) – A Political Thriller You Probably Never Heard Of

Written by Kenneth Fearing and Robert Garland
Directed by Roger Donaldson

It often seems that political thrillers are a dime a dozen. Whether or not they are executed well usually hinges on their degree of believability as well as how the story is executed. Although Tom Clancy is generally considered to be the master of the political thriller and his novels have been translated fairly well to the silver screen, there are a number of other books that have also made the cut. Unfortunately, they are usually overshadowed by Clancy’s books and films which seem to have dominated the landscape in this area.

One film that people haven’t seen but should is No Way Out. This political thriller, based on the book The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing, is something of a sleeper and should have garnered more attention than it did. It starred Kevin Costner before his career exploded with roles in films such as Bull Durham and Dances With Wolves. Part of the reason for the film’s sleeper status could be that Costner was not yet a marquee actor as Clint Eastwood was when he starred in his own political thriller In The Line Of Fire.

Costner is Tom Farrell, a young Naval Officer. He’s visiting a college friend, Scott Pritchard (portrayed by Will Patton) in Washington DC when he meets Susan Atwell (portrayed by Sean Young). The two begin a steamy affair. At the time, Tom is unaware that Susan is also the mistress of the Secretary of Defense, David Brice (portrayed by Gene Hackman).

Scott works for Brice, and when Brice needs someone with a background in intelligence to act as a liaison to the CIA, he asks Scott to have Tom brought back Stateside. Susan and Tom’s affair heats up, but Susan won’t sever things with Brice due to the fact that he’s paying the bills at her place.

Tom and Susan have a confrontation one day when Brice is on his way over. Reluctantly, Tom leaves clandestinely. Susan then alludes to the relationship but won’t tell Brice who it is. The two argue, and he hits her, then she tumbles off the balcony at the top of her staircase and dies.

Scott goes to Susan’s place to clean up any evidence that Brice was there. Brice knows whoever her other lover knew that he was at the house. Thinking he is heading off the situation, he puts Tom in charge of the investigation. Scott and Brice begin to believe that Susan was ferreting secrets to a Soviet mole, putting Tom in a unique predicament.

If it sounds long and involved, the film actually isn’t. Just shy of two hours, it’s very well-paced revealing bits and pieces about what is happening and moving the story forward without becoming too confusing, although that could have happened. Instead of bogging down in unnecessary scenes that go nowhere, it makes the most of every bit of airtime.

The plot is very good. There was a good degree of suspense as I wondered what exactly was going on. Much was made of the “phantom submarine” and at times it did seem like Susan could have been giving information over to someone else. Was there someone else involved or was Tom being pegged as a Soviet spy? Was it all just a mess as Brice tried to throw the heat off of himself? The suspense factor is excellent.

The acting is terrific as nothing is given away prematurely. It’s way beyond a love triangle as there’s jockeying for the furthering of careers and political futures. Costner is great as someone who’s making a career out of his military experience and nearly throwing it all away with his choices. Yet he shows what mettle he’s made of throughout the film. Costner handles the role very well, being convincing as all of the sides of the character are revealed.

Gene Hackman is always wonderful and he delivers a stellar performance here. I could see the aging politician who enjoyed the attention of a beautiful young woman, even if she was essentially bought and paid for. He’s also believable as the cold and calculating politician with this one character flaw or weakness. The fact that both of these aspects of the same character work in this role is a real credit to Hackman’s incredible talent. He’s never been a headliner but has always delivered strong, dependable, and convincing performances. This is definitely one of his best. I think he’s perhaps one of the most underrated actors of the last fifty years.

Sean Young sizzles in her scenes. She’s not a one-dimensional character, and although her death is central to the other events in the film, she manages to have an impact beyond her death. Patton is excellent as someone caught in the middle between his friend and the man who may hold the key to his future, caught up in something he really doesn’t understand and has no control over.

No Way Out is a great political thriller chock full of suspense and well-executed. The players are captured at a time before they were so full of themselves that they needed to posture before the camera, and it works for a great movie that too many people have never heard of.

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