No Way Out (1987 film)

No Way Out is a 1987 American neo-noir[1] political thriller film directed by Roger Donaldson and starring Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Will Patton and Sean Young. Howard Duff, George Dzundza, Jason Bernard, Fred Thompson, and Iman appear in supporting roles. The film is based on the 1946 novel The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing.

No Way Out
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoger Donaldson
Produced by
Screenplay byRobert Garland
Based onThe Big Clock
by Kenneth Fearing
Music byMaurice Jarre
CinematographyJohn Alcott
Edited by
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • August 14, 1987 (1987-08-14)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million
Box office$35.5 million


U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Tom Farrell is interrogated by two men about how he first met Secretary of Defense David Brice. Farrell describes being invited to an inaugural ball by his college buddy Scott Pritchard, who intends to introduce him to Brice. Pritchard hopes that Brice will transfer Farrell to the Pentagon. On meeting Farrell, Brice is unimpressed and virtually ignores him. Moments later, Farrell begins flirting with another guest, Susan Atwell. The two have sex in her limousine and at the apartment of Nina Beka, a friend of Susan's, even though she has admitted to Farrell that she is also involved with a married man. The next day, Farrell bids her good-bye at the airport, on his way back to active duty; but their one-night encounter has clearly had a profound romantic effect on both of them.

Farrell returns to sea and single-handedly rescues a crewman from being washed overboard during a storm. Brice reads a newspaper story about the rescue and orders Farrell transferred to his intelligence staff. Brice and Pritchard, Brice's second-in-command, orient him to his new assignment which clearly involves surreptitiously getting secret information from other government agencies, such as the CIA, and passing it on to Brice. Farrell also finds that he may be at times working with Sam Hesselman, an old friend now working in the Pentagon's new computer center as its chief programmer-analyst. But before this, Farrell has already gone to Susan's apartment, where their fledgling romance is re-ignited in earnest. The only hitch comes when she tells Farrell that her married "consort" is his superior, David Brice.

Some time later, after Susan and Farrell return from a romantic weekend in the country, Brice visits her unexpectedly. After urging a hurt and jealous Farrell to leave through the back door, Susan assures him that she loves him and will leave Brice. Brice sees a man leaving Susan's house but cannot see that it was Farrell. After Susan lets him in, the suspicious Brice demands to know the name of her other lover, but Susan refuses and orders him to leave. Brice becomes enraged, slaps her several times, and accidentally pushes Susan to her death over an upstairs railing. Brice then rushes to Pritchard's apartment and tearfully confesses what has happened, stating he is ready to turn himself in since he had been seen by Susan's other lover. However, Pritchard suggests that if the other man is made out to be a suspected KGB sleeper agent code-named "Yuri", then Susan's death could be made a matter of national security and "Yuri" could be killed "in the line of duty" by operatives under Pritchard's control. Pritchard then cleans Susan's house of all evidence that Brice was there, and discovers the negative of a photograph Susan had taken of Farrell earlier. The negative shows a very poor, unidentifiable image of a man.

CID officers, commanded by Major Donovan, scour Susan's apartment for evidence. Pritchard secretes the negative which possibly shows the murderer into the items brought in by the agents. Initially the negative, along with a few others, seems to be too faint to reveal a picture, but attempts to enhance the blurred image via computer begin to bear fruit when it is given to Hesselman. Meanwhile, as his initial shock begins to wear away, Farrell becomes convinced that Brice is the actual murderer and that Pritchard is helping him cover up the crime. At the same time, he becomes aware that the most valuable pieces of evidence so far accumulated would make him the prime suspect. Farrell determines to play along with the bogus investigation until he can develop evidence linking Brice to Susan, so that he can defend himself against being charged with both murder and espionage (as "Yuri").

Farrell learns that one piece of evidence is a Moroccan jewel box he's seen, a gift to Susan from Brice. As any foreign gift must be registered with the State Department, Farrell gets Hesselman to "raid" State's computerized registry of such items, which should link the gift to Brice by name. However, Farrell's plan begins unraveling when Pritchard finds an address book of Susan's with Nina's name in it. When Pritchard and Farrell roust Nina for information about Susan's "men", she pretends not to recognize Farrell but Pritchard learns she has heard the name "Brice". Pritchard sends two former CIA assassins to eliminate her. Overhearing this, Farrell races from the building and engages the assassins while warning Nina, who goes safely into hiding. This activity raises Pritchard's suspicions of Farrell's loyalty to Brice and himself, as well as his motives for attempting to disrupt the coverup.

Farrell convinces Hesselman to delay the enhancement work on the photograph by confiding to him that he and Susan were in love and it will be him who is seen if the photo is cleared up. Other CID officers bring in two witnesses, who saw "Yuri" with Susan during their romantic weekend, to Donovan. They cross paths with Farrell in the Pentagon corridors and recognize him at a distance. The CID begins a search of the Pentagon on grounds that "Yuri" is somewhere in the building, using the witnesses to identify him. Farrell eludes the search and tells Hesselman that Brice had slept with and killed Susan. Thinking that Farrell is delusional, Hesselman tells Pritchard about Farrell's relationship with Susan and his belief that Brice murdered her. Pritchard thanks Hesselman - and then executes him.

Still trying to avoid the search, Farrell returns to Hesselman's office, where the printout of State's registry has linked the jewel case with Brice. He confronts Brice with this evidence and threatens to go to the police if the search is not called off. After Donovan reports that Hesselman has been murdered by "Yuri", Pritchard tells Brice that Farrell was Susan's lover, then adds that if the man in the photo is "Yuri" then Farrell must be "Yuri", and Brice will still be in the clear as he (Pritchard) will claim that Brice was at his home the night Susan was killed. Knowing that Farrell has the printout, Brice improvises a different story: Pritchard, who is homosexual, killed Susan because he was jealous of Brice's relationship with her. The devastated Pritchard commits suicide and, when guards break in, is accused of having been "Yuri", concluding the search for the spy and murderer. Farrell quietly sends the printout by courier to the Director of the CIA, an enemy of Brice, then leaves the Pentagon, as the finished image enhancement of the photograph positively reveals Farrell as Susan's lover.

Later, Farrell is picked up by two men while sitting despondently at Susan's grave; they are the ones who were interrogating him at the film's beginning. It is revealed that Farrell actually is "Yuri", a Russian mole in the Department of Defense. The KGB ordered Farrell to seduce Brice's mistress to gather intelligence from her. Farrell's handler is revealed to be his quirky artist-landlord, who tells "Yuri" that America is no longer safe for him, and that it is time for him to return to the Soviet Union. Revealing that he genuinely loved Susan, Farrell refuses and tells his handlers that he is finished being a spy. After he leaves the safe house, his handler snaps, "He'll return. Where else does he have to go?"




The screenplay is based on Kenneth Fearing's 1946 novel The Big Clock.


Exteriors were shot on location in Baltimore, Annapolis, Arlington, Washington, D.C., and Auckland, New Zealand. The film is dedicated to the memory of its director of photography John Alcott who died after principal photography had wrapped in July 1986, over a year prior to the film's eventual release.


The film features original music by Academy Award-winning composer Maurice Jarre.


Box office

The film debuted at number 2 at the US box office after Stakeout.[2] The film's budget was an estimated $15 million; its total U.S. gross was over $35 million.[3]

Critical reception

The film was very well received by critics and as of September 8, 2018, holds a 91% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 43 reviews.[4]

Roger Ebert gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, calling it "truly labyrinthine and ingenious."[5] Richard Schickel of Time wrote, "Viewers who arrive at the movie five minutes late and leave five minutes early will avoid the setup and payoff for the preposterous twist that spoils this lively, intelligent remake of 1948's The Big Clock."[6] Desson Thomson of The Washington Post wrote, "The film makes such good use of Washington and builds suspense so well that it transcends a plot bordering on ridiculous."[7]

See also


  1. Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
  2. "Stakeout' Ranks No. 1 In Box-Office Sales". The New York Times. September 2, 1987. Retrieved 2010-11-17.
  3. "Box office / business for No Way Out (1987)". IMDb. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
  4. "No Way Out". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  5. Ebert, Roger (August 14, 1987). "No Way Out". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
  6. Schickel, Richard (17 August 1987). "Cinema: Hot Films, Unhappy Endings". Time. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
  7. Thomson, Desson (August 14, 1987). "No Way Out". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
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