Please note that these screencaps are from an alternate source and do not necessarily reflect the Blu-ray presentation.
***/**** Image B- Sound B Commentary C
starring Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Howard Duff
screenplay by Robert Garland, based on the book The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing
directed by Roger Donaldson
by Walter Chaw I was lucky enough to be 14 in 1987, right at that age where my buddies and I were dropped off at the theatre by our parents for whatever we wanted to see. Because we were generally not well-supervised in such matters, we talked them into buying us tickets for stuff like Hellraiser, RoboCop, Lethal Weapon, Full Metal Jacket, and The Untouchables. My first R-rated theatrical experiences were, in other words, magical. They were gleefully violent, extravagantly so, and the sex... Jesus. The sex in mainstream movies in 1987 was combustible--enough so that it formed the backbone of my onanism for the next several years. I saw Angel Heart this way, and Fatal Attraction of course. Key in there is Roger Donaldson's largely-forgotten but durable political-paranoia thriller No Way Out. Starring Kevin Costner, cementing a legendary winning streak that began a month or two earlier with his starmaking turn in The Untouchables and continued with the dead sexy Bull Durham the following year and the legendarily-chaste Field of Dreams a year after that. Lost in conversations about Costner's stardom during this period is his preternatural ability to be an Everyman sex symbol. Girls loved him, and guys didn't mind because Costner isn't really all that threatening. He sure is likeable, though. When he introduced a note of menace into his nice-guy archetype in A Perfect World, he in fact discovered his perfect role. The problems came when he tried to be something more than that. Cowboy, baseball player, fish-man, all-around all-American? No problem. Attorney, doctor--now we got issues.
In No Way Out, a loose remake of the Ray Milland/Charles Laughton thriller The Big Clock, Costner's promising navy officer Commander Tom Farrell engages in a humdinger of a one-night stand with irreverent Susan (Sean Young, just the right temperature of batshit), who happens to be sleeping with Secretary of Defense Brice (Gene Hackman). This is sticky. It gets stickier when Susan ends up dead and all signs point to Tom, who is innocent of the crime, we know, but put in charge of collecting the clues to her killer--which, unfortunately, all seem to implicate him. This leads to a neat device that drives the third act where Tom needs to tie up every loose thread before 1987 dot-matrix technology prints out a prehistoric selfie placing Tom at the scene of the crime. It's cool.
If the breakout star of the film isn't Costner, it's Will Patton. As Pritchard, Brice's fanatically loyal assistant, Patton is a portrait of sycophantic demagoguery. His eyes are bright and shiny. Of the many things No Way Out does very well, what it does best is show how men orbit around more powerful men in excited circles. The film is at heart about pack behaviour in boys. There's a line in it where Susan reveals to Tom that she's his boss's mistress: "You know I work for Brice," Tom says, to which she replies, "That makes two of us." It's a self-knowing moment about primal power and gender and sexuality. Not for nothing is one of Tom and Susan's trysts presaged by the Maori Haka.
Watch Costner's performance. Removed from his Moment, it's easier to see how he was still an actor here. His Tom, who has a few secrets, covers his mouth when he laughs. It's an oddly fey gesture, and an effective choice for who he turns out to be at the end. On a romantic excursion, he picks a bug off the windshield and eats it to gross Susan out. Childish. And carried off brilliantly. The '80s hero is interesting. It's the age of Arnie and Sly, but it's the age, too, of Marty McFly and Mickey Rourke--not to mention the holdovers from the 1970s, the Robert De Niros and Dustin Hoffmans. Hackman is an unbelievable bastard in a role he would sort of reprise in Absolute Power. At a pivotal moment, however, Brice and Tom reveal they're both horrible when consumed by jealousy. Brice murders Susan, sure, but there but for the grace of timing goes Tom. That willingness to be ugly while addressing the halls of power is another '70s holdover and an interesting one when held up against another 1987 film, Predator, which similarly hints at Emperor Reagan having no clothes there late in his lame-duck term. Not for nothing does No Way Out open with an aerial montage of Washington D.C. monuments scored with fright music. What's well and truly fascinating is the picture's suggestion that male sexual jealousy and aggression are the key to ferreting out foreign threats possibly, internal moles definitely. To paraphrase another '87 release, male sexual jealousy...is good.
No Way Out is a secret noir. It speaks of a fallen, amoral world: an America that doesn't make much sense anymore, rife with authority figures ineffectual and corrupt. The fatale is more dangerous in death, though it's her predatory sexuality that gets our hero in this mess in the first place--and gets her killed. It's tangled because the murderer is in a lot of ways the good guy, and his highly-strung, gay-coded assistant who comes up with the MacGuffin to distract attention away from his beloved alpha would, in another context, earn a medal for what he's done. No Way Out is a morally complex movie about moral complexity. When Tom in the final scene shows what he is and what he's capable of, the casting of imminently-likeable, corn-fed Costner makes the resolution impossible to reconcile. It's a frustrating thing, and a nifty one, and, as far as epitaphs of the 1980s go, it's poetry. Everyone is unknowable. The more you know, the less you understand. Even as the central drama unfolds, there's a secondary thing about a "phantom sub" being developed as some kind of military Spruce Goose that, in the rearview, proves just another metaphor for creatures of the id. Then another thing about photo technology that requires a subjective input to obtain an objective result. There's no such thing as objective, see? It's 1987.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
SHOUT! brings No Way Out to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p transfer that suffers from a dated master. Noise-reduced and edge-enhanced to compensate, the image alternates between aggressively sharp and looking like one of those old videos that needs a "tone" adjustment. For an '80s movie the detail impresses, but much of it is deceptive. That said, dynamic range is pretty good. The original Dolby soundmix is on board in 2.0 DTS-HD MA along with a 5.1 remix in the same lossless format. The main difference between the two tracks is an improved richness in Maurice Jarre's score with the 5.1 option. About said score: it hasn't aged well. At all. A keyboard-and-drum machine disasterpiece, it makes the picture less. But even more damaging is the title song, performed by Paul Anka and Julia Migenes. Remember when Dennis Quaid sang on the soundtrack for The Big Easy (from 1986)? Remember Patrick Swayze's "She's Like the Wind" from Dirty Dancing (1987)? Not everything from this period was a great idea. The first, still-hot love scene in the back of a limo touring around D.C. (showing the Washington Monument at the beginning of sex is a joke that writes itself) would be hotter yet if not for that easy-listening nightmare of a fucking song playing in the background. Anyway, you can also hear that fucking song with greater clarity in 5.1.
Donaldson provides a sedate, bemused audio commentary indicated after the first ten minutes by long stretches of amiable silence. He tells a story about Sean Young declaring in her audition that she hadn't read the screenplay but had written a diary page in character, whereupon she proceeded to read its salacious contents to Donaldson. Hired! He keeps referring to her as a "find," but to this Blade Runner fan, I have a hard time understanding that. She'd also appeared in Stripes and Dune, for crying out loud. Whatever. I was actually more interested to hear Donaldson's sporadic recollections of shooting The Bounty with Mel Gibson. The Bounty is fantastic. Donaldson brings up how Costner, even at this early point in his career, was very headstrong and opinionated. They're good qualities, until they're not. The entire commentary for the fatal fight sequence is, "Fight sequences like this are hard to pull off." He eventually explains the trickery involved in Young's staircase plummet, which is cool. When he says, "Uh, the stunt woman fell through the table," it kind of says everything you need to know about the bulk of this yakker. He refers to Patton, perhaps inadequately, as "unique," then, I kid you not, says nothing else for fifteen minutes. Donaldson seems an affable sort; he would have benefited from a moderator. A HiDef trailer for the film rounds out the presentation.