No Way Out (1987 film)

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No Way Out
No Way Out (1987 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoger Donaldson
Screenplay byRobert Garland
Based onThe Big Clock
by Kenneth Fearing
Produced by
CinematographyJohn Alcott
Edited by
Music byMaurice Jarre
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

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, previously filmed as The Big Clock (1948) and Police Python 357 (1976).


U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Tom Farrell is invited to an inaugural ball by his college buddy Scott Pritchard, who intends to introduce him to Secretary of Defense David Brice. There, Farrell meets Susan Atwell, and the two begin seeing each other. Brice and Pritchard, Brice's second-in-command, later hire Farrell to get secret information from other government agencies, such as the CIA, and pass 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. Atwell eventually tells Farrell that she is Brice's mistress.

Some time later, after Atwell and Farrell return from a romantic weekend in the country, Brice visits her unexpectedly. After Atwell lets him in, the suspicious Brice demands to know the name of her other lover, but Atwell refuses and orders him to leave. Brice becomes enraged and accidentally pushes Atwell 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 Atwell'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 Atwell'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 Atwell's house of all evidence that Brice was there, and discovers the negative of a photograph Atwell had taken of Farrell earlier. The negative is blurry and does not show a recognizable face, but Hesselman at the computer center puts the mainframe computer to work on computationally enhancing the image, a process that may take days.

CID officers, commanded by Major Donovan, scour Atwell's apartment for evidence. 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 Atwell, 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, a gift to Atwell 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 Atwell's with her close friend Nina's name in it. When Pritchard and Farrell roust Nina for information about Atwell'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 Atwell were in love and it will be him who is seen if the photo is cleared up. 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 Atwell. Believing that Farrell is delusional, Hesselman tells Pritchard about Farrell's relationship with Atwell and his belief that Brice murdered her. Hesselman then is killed by Pritchard.

Knowing that Farrell has a printout of the gift-registry data connecting him to Atwell, Brice improvises a different story: Pritchard, who is gay, killed Atwell because he was jealous of Brice's relationship with her. The devastated Pritchard commits suicide and, when guards break in, is identified as "Yuri", concluding the search for the murderous spy. 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 Atwell's lover.

Later, Farrell is picked up by two men while sitting despondently at Atwell's grave, and they begin to interrogate him about the killing. It is revealed that Farrell actually is "Yuri", a Soviet 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 Atwell, Farrell refuses and tells his handlers that he is finished being a spy.




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, between April 1986 and June 1986. 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. The title song, "No Way Out," was performed by Paul Anka.


Box office[edit]

The film debuted at number 2 at the US box office after Stakeout with $4.3 million.[2] The film's budget was an estimated $15 million; its total U.S. gross was $35.5 million.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 43 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critics consensus states: "Roger Donaldson's modern spin on the dense, stylish suspense films of the 1940s features fine work from Gene Hackman and Sean Young, as well as the career-making performance that made Kevin Costner a star."[4] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 77 out of 100, based on 18 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[6]

Roger Ebert gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, calling it "truly labyrinthine and ingenious."[7] 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."[8] 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."[9]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ "No Way Out (1987)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
  4. ^ "No Way Out". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  5. ^ "No Way Out Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  6. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "No Way Out" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 14, 1987). "No Way Out". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
  8. ^ Schickel, Richard (17 August 1987). "Cinema: Hot Films, Unhappy Endings". Time. Archived from the original on April 8, 2008. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
  9. ^ Thomson, Desson (August 14, 1987). "No Way Out". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 14, 2013.

External links[edit]