' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: No Way Out (1987)

Friday, May 20, 2022

Friday's Old Fashioned: No Way Out (1987)

There is an incredible moment near the end of Roger Donaldson’s very 80s (those totally tubular opening titles) 1987 thriller “No Way Out” when Naval Lt. Cdr. Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) is being pursued for various thriller reasons through the halls of the Pentagon by a pair of villainous CIA agents. To buy time, Tom grabs a CID officer and orders him to arrest him the pursuant agent. “Arrest him!” Tom shouts. “Do it!” It’s not so much what he says as the way Costner says it, his voice noticeably cracking on “Do it!”, a shout becoming a shriek. There must have been more takes of this scene on the cutting room and those takes must have been more flattering. Yet this is the one that remained in the final cut, evoking the looseness of Costner’s performance. If over the years his acting has grown more reserved, and not in a bad way, conveying so much with minimal effort, rewatching his turn as Mike Farrell put into perspective how just a couple years later he would have made “Bull Durham”, cultivating a star power that was rendered by his own brand of easy charisma. 

Mike winds up in a relationship with Washington socialite Susan Atwell (Sean Young) who is also the mistress of Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman). Tom does not know this, but knows she is someone’s mistress, and Brice doesn’t know she is seeing Mike, though he knows she is seeing someone which is why, in a jealous rage, he inadvertently kills her. Mike is then brought in by the Secretary of Defense’s right-hand man Scott Pritchard (Will Patton) to unwittingly engage in a cover-up, investigating the murder of Susan that is ostensibly being pinned on a Russian mole that gradually leads straight back to him. This also means the Susan is not so much a character as a pawn of the plot, brought in solely to get killed off. Even so, Young makes a mark, especially in her scenes with Costner. It has become commonplace among some cinephiles to deplore the lack of sex in modern movies but here, despite the secretive nature of their relationship, sex is out in the open, evoked in the famous scene in the back of the limousine. In each other’s company Costner and Young come across at ease and not just in love but in lust. It backs up the big twist at movie’s end.

Working with screenwriter Robert Garland, who is working from the screenplay for the 1946 film “The Big Clock”, Donaldson drums up suspense in all sorts of nifty ways. Pritchard’s early confession that he believes in Brice so much he would anything to help him undergirds every cockamamie move he makes while a blurry photo of Mike that shows up at Susan’s house, enhanced bit by bit by expert Pentagon programmer Sam Hesselman (George Dzundza), is a gratifying narrative bomb waiting to go off, keeping Mike on a clock like Marty McFly’s own vexing Polaroid in “Back to the Future.” And amid all the spy games there is even some statecraft, an unctuous Senator (Howard Duff) using Brice’s troubles against him to push through a submarine project the Defense Secretary doesn’t want, political horse trading rendered in deliberately vague verbiage so as to incriminate no one. In this moment, Hackman does a good job of looking like has heartburn.

Though Pritchard’s fervent loyalty winds up taking villainous center stage, Hackman still scores in a role that feels like it informed his later turn as the President in “Absolute Power.” Arrogant in the early-going, when things go wrong, Hackman has his character virtually revert to little boy behavior, talking about turning himself in but all too willing to let Pritchard try to get him out of it. And when Mike uncovers the truth and push comes to shove, the way Hackman strips every single histrionic ounce out of pleading “I’ll give you anything you want” only makes it sound that much more cringingly desperate. It’s testament to the characterization all the actors give their roles, Costner to Hackman and even further down the line with Dzundza. In most movies, he would have just been a throwaway. But playing a character marooned in a wheelchair, Dzundza evinces a kind of quiet joy in his work and camaraderie with Costner’s character. And when Sam’s reckoning arrives, one he doesn’t see coming, it doesn’t just feel like one more dead body in a thriller but a death that lingers, someone who really, really did not deserve this.

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