Monday 25 September 2023

No Way Out - 1987 film review

It isn't often that a remake of a successful and well-made film matches the original, far less surpasses it. One of the rare exceptions to this principle, I think, is No Way Out, which was based (very, very, loosely) on Kenneth Fearing's terrific novel The Big Clock, which was superbly filmed in 1948. There has also been a French remake with the improbable title Police Python 357, which I've never seen. 

The central idea of The Big Clock is of a man being tasked to find a missing witness to a murder, who is in fact himself. The problem is that he's acutely aware that when the truth comes out, his life will be in extreme danger. This 'manhunt for oneself' idea wasn't original to Fearing, but it's a fascinating one which has been employed by various writers over the years, including Derek Marlowe in A Dandy in Aspic, and there's even an echo of it in a sub-plot in my own Sepulchre Street

Robert Garland's terrific screenplay for No Way Out takes this concept and adds a very pleasing additional twist, which - when I first saw the film - took my breath away. I've now watched it for a third time, and the first since I gave the film a brief mention in the very early days of this blog, and for me, it still works very well. I even realised for the first time that the two songs featured in the film are written by Paul Anka.

Kevin Costner plays Tom Farrell, a naval commander who is hired by Brice, the Secretary of State for Defence (Gene Hackman) with the help of his friend and Brice's assistant Will Paton. Farrell meets a glamorous young woman (Sean Young, at her very best) and embarks on a torrid affair with her. When she tells him that she's also involved with Brice, the complications begin to mount.

This is an intelligent and gripping thriller, one of the best from the 1980s in my opinion. A key reason for its success is that the characters, although quite lightly sketched, are far from formulaic. They have genuine depth and their personalities govern their actions. This is also true, for instance, of the disabled IT expert played very effectively by George Dzunda. I'm glad to have enjoyed this film greatly every time I've watched it.

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