Ever since I picked up Hulu and Amazon streaming video I’ve been watching for this one to get served up. Here it is, from 1987, No Way Out, from MGM, and starring Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. It’s on Amazon Prime Video this month, the first time I’ve seen it in about 30 years. Details are from Wikipedia.
This is a political-espionage thriller, and it mostly takes place in the nation’s political hub, in and around Washington, D.C. You won’t miss that point, because the title scene is a magnificent helicopter “boom” shot that starts with the focus on the White House nestled behind the George Washington monument, panning backward, across the Potomac before finally settling on an impressive house on the Virginia shore. The scene switches to inside the house where Lieutenant Commander Tom Farrell (Costner) of the United States Navy is explaining to a panel of interrogators how the present situation unrolled. The scene then switches back to the beginning, six months earlier.
Farrell is at an inauguration ball, so this must be 20 January, and the year must be 1984, because that’s when the inauguration prior to this movie occurred. Farrell spots a really hot babe whose name is Susan Atwell and who is played by Sean Young. She decides to ditch her date for the night and make it with Farrell. They get it on hot and heavy in the back seat of a limo, going full carnal for the cameras. They end up at the abode of Susan’s friend Nina Beka, played by Iman. Susan ditches the remainder of her garments, and the two spend the night together in Nina’s apartment.
Immediately Farrell goes off on a sea duty assignment to the Republic of the Philippines. Along the way he becomes a hero after saving a seaman from being washed overboard in a storm. His name and photo appear in the news.
In the Philippines Farrell and his Navy buddy soak up some local culture, inserted by director Roger Donaldson for viewers to feast their eyes while the plot ripens.
Back in D.C. and now attached to the office of Secretary of Defense David Brice (Hackman), Farrell reconnects with Susan, and they really get it on hot and sinful. After a weekend of heavy necking at a Chesapeake Bay hideaway the loving pair return to Susan’s place, where the rent is being paid by Farrell’s new boss. When Secretary Brice shows up unexpectedly, Farrell cuts out the back way as the Secretary enters by the front. Susan’s landlord figures she is double dipping on him, and there is a confrontation. Susan ends up dead, falling from an upper floor onto a glass table below. Things get sticky for the DoD head.
To salvage his reputation, and his job, Secretary Brice engineers a plot of distraction, employing the aid of his eager assistant Scott Pritchard (Will Patton). The plan is to blame the murder of Susan on an imagined Soviet mole named Yuri, suspected of living surreptitiously among Pentagon workers and being sought by the FBI, CIA, and military intelligence. Most of the remaining action takes place within this massive complex, supposedly the largest office building in the world. Irony of ironies, Farrell is assigned to work the investigation. He struggles to keep a level countenance.
Pritchard’s ambition and resourcefulness are without bound. Any and all methods are available for play. Here he discusses strategy with two government contract killers, inside the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Director Marshall (Fred Thompson) discusses with agent Leon Russom (Kevin O’Brien) just what the hell is going on at the Pentagon. Russom speculates Brice has taken on himself the task of tracking down Yuri the mole to steal the CIA’s thunder. He tells about the late Susan Atwell, apparently the girlfriend of Pritchard or his boss. The Director points out it can’t be Pritchard, because he is gay. Surprise, surprise!
As Farrell monitors the process and pretends to be hunting for Yuri, he gets wind Pritchard’s hit men are going after Nina. There is much artificial drama as Farrell snatches a car from the Pentagon’s pool and gives chase, cutting off the two gunnies and reaching Nina in time to warn her to flee her workplace at a Metro boutique and to get deeply lost.
Farrell enlists the aid of close friend Sam Hesselman (George Dzundza), ultimately taking Sam into his confidence. This proves fatal for Sam. When Sam confides to Pritchard, also revealing Susan’s connection with Brice, Pritchard murders Sam, shooting him inside a Pentagon gymnasium.
In the meantime, investigators have brought in witnesses from the Chesapeake resort to identify the man they saw with the late Susan. One spots Farrell in a Pentagon corridor, and a massive hunt throughout the entire building is initiated.
Farrell discovers Pritchard has murdered Sam Hesselman, and there is a big blowout in the Secretary of Defense office. Pritchard is selected to take the fall, and he responds by putting an unused bullet through his temple.
That ends the hunt for Yuri and possibly not quite Farrell’s troubles. He exits the Pentagon and reminisces on a grassy slope next to Susan’s grave. Two men in suits come and lead him away. They take him to the house in Virginia and interrogate him. His Soviet boss steps from behind a one-way mirror and tells him it’s time to come back to the fatherland. He declines the offer, and his boss instructs his agents not to kill Farrell. He reminds them Farrell has no place else to go.
So, that’s the key to the entire plot. Yuri the mole turns out to be Farrell, and you start to wonder how a deep cover operator like him managed to misplay his relationship with Susan, thus risking his exposure. What was he thinking? Then it is revealed that his assignment was to get close to Susan, very close, and thereby close to the SecDef. Apparently what happened is he got too close and developed a loving relationship, not a wise move for a seasoned spy. As it turns out, this is to be expected.
Revealed at the end is that Evgeni (Eugene in English) had been planted in the United States for years, becoming completely absorbed in American life and working his way to the upper reaches of the United States military. What often happens in cases like this is that the propaganda of the spy’s home country wears thin and with it the spy’s loyalty. Without periodic refreshment orientation an embedded agent may eventually flip.
Other aspects of the plot lack real world comfort. Yuri is known to be in the Pentagon. What do they do? They instigate a room by room search, dragging along the two witness who can identify him. They expect to complete this before the end of the work day, when thousands of people will be heading home. No, I don’t believe that either. I once worked for this company, but it was only last year that I ever visited the headquarters. The place is huge. Let’s think about a room-by-room search taking several days at least.
There is a lot of what I call plot churn. This is what you see when action seems to have been added in an attempt to stretch out the suspense. In this case, as is often, the action takes on the appearance of pachinko played with human marbles. That’s what we see as Defense security people charge from office to office and up and down those huge ramps that connect floors.
The same can be said of Farrell’s dash to save Nina from the killers. A freeway confrontation, an engineered crash, over the edge of an elevated lane, down a tree, through back alleys, sliding down an escalator divider, onto a Metro train, and on and on. It’s plot churn.
This production features a fair amount of female skin, much appreciated by a segment of the viewer-ship. Also there are shots of Kevin Costner’s bare torso, which will interest others in the audience. Titillation is a lot of what this movie is about. Enjoy.