NO WAY OUT (1987)

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Elizabeth (spoilers!)

Where do I even start with No Way Out? Going into it all I knew about it was that my mom recommended it and it had Kevin Costner running around in a Navy uniform. That’s pretty much it. And when the movie started, it seemed pretty straightforward.

It follows Tom Farrell (Costner) as he begins a relationship with Susan Atwell (Sean Young), a woman whose sole occupation seems to be to keep Secretary of Defense David Brice entertained at whatever cost necessary. Farrell begins working for Brice in the Pentagon, at first unaware that Brice was the man keeping Susan, at the suggestion of Scott Pritchard (Will Patton), an old friend of Farrell’s and Brice’s right hand man. So at this point I assumed the main conflict was going to be hiding Farrell and Susan’s relationship from Brice. Farrell finds out that Brice is the one keeping Susan but Susan insists that she loves Farrell and will leave Brice. I believed her, but still thought the main conflict was going to be a love triangle. Then, after Farrell and Susan spend a weekend out of town together, Brice unexpectedly shows up and Susan kicks Farrell out. Then Brice straight up murders Susan.

I guess technically the murder is an accident, as Susan accidentally falls off a balcony in her house. Eh, except she wouldn’t have fallen if Brice wasn’t practically beating her up. Brice freaks out and runs to Pritchard and tells him everything. They decide to pin it on someone else two ways: first, claim someone else (besides Brice or Farrell) was Susan’s secret lover, and second, claim that said secret lover is Yuri. Who is Yuri? I was confused by that myself. Yuri is a code name for an unseen person working at the Pentagon that everyone seems to suspect is a KGB sleeper agent. At first I thought Yuri was a real person, like Yuri was a real guy that everyone knew but thought might be KGB. But it turns out that there’s no proof that Yuri even exists, so it seems easy for Brice and Pritchard to pin it on him.

At this point, Farrell doesn’t even know Susan is dead. So when Brice and Pritchard call him in to lead a secret investigation that they say will lead them to this “Yuri” person, it’s the first time Farrell learns that Susan is dead, much less that she was murdered. This scene, when they hand Farrell the file that tells him the victim is Susan, is pretty amazing. Farrell is obviously horrified at what he learns, but tries to hide it so no one knows that he was Susan’s lover. Brice and Pritchard are terrified that Farrell won’t buy it, and further that no one will buy it. There’s an amazing moment when Farrell asks to use the bathroom – we know it’s so he can have some freak out time in private. As soon as he’s in the bathroom, Brice turns to Pritchard and freaks out because he thinks Farrell doesn’t buy the story, and that’s why he’s acting weird; meanwhile Farrell is basically curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, losing his mind. So much of this movie is about guys stressing out over the same thing but for different reasons.

Once Farrell gets it together, he starts leading the investigation down wrong paths to buy him time. He knows that if it’s discovered that Farrell was Susan’s secret lover, they’ll pin the murder on him. So on the one hand, we have Farrell fake-leading this investigation, trying to derail it so he isn’t caught. Then on the other hand, Farrell is trying to figure out what actually happened to Susan, as he suspects that Brice had something to do with it. At one point, there’s a piece of evidence that seems to be unusable: an undeveloped Polaroid. Farrell knows that the Polaroid is one that Susan took of him, so he’s relieved when he finds out they can’t get anything from it. Until his friend Sam, also helping in the investigation, puts the photo on a big screen and runs a program to slowly develop it. So now Farrell is basically leading two investigations, one real and one fake, while trying to beat the clock on this picture developing.

At this point, I was sort of frustrated and confused as to why Farrell didn’t go to anyone for help. Earlier in the movie we see him working with the CIA and he makes a personal contact there. Farrell didn’t kill Susan, so why doesn’t he go higher than Brice and try to save himself? We find out why later, but at this point I thought Farrell must have just thought he was fucked as soon as he was handed the file with Susan’s name and said nothing.

Eventually, Farrell figures out how to correctly pin Susan’s murder on Brice by tracing a jewelry box of Susan’s back to Brice. Once Farrell presents this evidence to Brice and Pritchard, Brice almost immediately shifts the blame on Pritchard. Though Pritchard is gay didn’t kill Susan, Brice starts going off on how Pritchard is essentially in love with him and killed Susan out of jealousy. Pritchard has a total meltdown once he realizes Brice is truly going to betray him like that, so he kills himself right there in front of Brice and Farrell. Brice keeps going along with the Yuri thing, saying that they uncovered Pritchard to be Yuri and Susan’s killer, causing the suicide.

I really liked the ending at this point. Farrell is a good, moral character who has been trying to get himself not blamed for the death of the woman he loved. So he’s not going to deny that Pritchard is Yuri, because that theory is saving his ass. But he will have to live the rest of his life knowing the truth: the woman he loves is dead, the man who killed her remains in power, and an innocent (okay he did kill someone in the movie, so not totally innocent) man’s reputation and life was destroyed. Once Pritchard was dead I felt like I finally had a chance to breathe, that it was sad that Susan was dead but a relief that Farrell really did get out of it. I was starting to worry that there was a big twist at the end, which was Farrell getting caught and imprisoned for Susan’s murder, which would then prove the title of the movie to be correct.

Well, that didn’t happen. We see Farrell speaking with his landlord, whom we’ve only met once, but I assumed was sort of a father or uncle figure to Farrell. Then the landlord starts speaking Russian. I thought that was a little weird. And then Farrell starts speaking Russian. And then the landlord remarks that Farrell has been undercover for so long that he’s lost some of his Russian accent. And then the landlord tells him that Farrell must go back home to Russia because his cover has been compromised. Because Yuri is real and Farrell is Yuri.

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT

Yes, that’s right, Kevin Costner is a KGB sleeper agent. When the movie ended, my mouth was totally open. I was shocked. I was expecting a crazy ending in some way, or a twist of some kind, but I had no fucking idea it would end this way. So, in a lot of ways, I did not like this ending. I felt like it came out of nowhere and negated a lot of what we had seen. We grow to love and root for Farrell, only to find out that he’s a foreign enemy (fucking Russian in 1987 even!). So, we shouldn’t have cared about Farrell?

After thinking about it (a lot), I came away with one main question. Why did Farrell care about who killed Susan? Was it because A.) Farrell believed that Brice and Pritchard truly thought Yuri was Susan’s lover and that if they found out Farrell was actually her lover they would know that Farrell = Yuri? Or was it because B.) Farrell knew Brice and Pritchard were full of shit but also knew that he couldn’t let the murder lead back to him and blow his cover?

I also felt sad when No Way Out ended, and not just because Kevin Costner turned out to be evil. But also . . . did he even love Susan? The Russian landlord guy implies that Farrell/Yuri was assigned to get involved with Susan to learn who she was sleeping with. So we know Farrell was deceiving Susan the whole time. But as far as we could tell, Susan truly loved Farrell. And Farrell seemed to truly love Susan! But did she die thinking that a man truly loved her whom she loved back when in reality he was a scary KGB agent only using her for information? Was Farrell going to kill Susan himself once he didn’t need her anymore?

AHHHHHHHHHH!!!! No Way Out answers a lot of questions but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. And I guess they really don’t need to be answered. We don’t need to know if Farrell loved Susan or was just using her. But it would be nice if we knew that some semblance of what we though we knew about Farrell turned out to be true. But maybe it just wasn’t true.

Although I have mixed feelings about the ending, I can’t say enough about the pacing and suspense that’s kept up throughout No Way Out. So often when I’m watching something in which the main character is completely screwed, I don’t even want to watch it anymore. But No Way Out never lets you feel that way; it takes you juuuuust to the point of wanting to give up because there’s no way Farrell can win, only to give you a little victory and keep you wanting to see more. The movie wasn’t entirely deflated by the ending.

So all in all, I would pretty much recommend No Way Out to anyone. Mostly because I would be curious of what they thought of the ending. But the suspense is just too good to not recommend it.

Christopher

It wasn’t until we started watching this that I remember that I had seen it before. It’s a reminder that I watched way too many movies with very sexual scenes with my parents when I was younger. But what I remembered the most was the fact that a lot of this film was filmed in the Pentagon.
My dad used to work there and I feel like my parents rented this film before or after we took a tour there when he first started working there. So it was pretty nice seeing something I have good memories of as a kid.
I think the film does a great job of keeping the tension throughout. I mean it really seems like every scene could lead toward disaster. I have loved Kevin Costner since I was a kid, Field of Dreams used to be a movie I watched at least every year. However, I was surprised that Gene Hackman was in this film. That definitely makes me think I watched this when I had no idea who he was.
I would recommend this movie for sure. I think it’s interesting and I like the Navy connection.
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THE BIRDCAGE (1996)

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Elizabeth

After the depressing horrible-ness that came on Sunday, I felt like I was in a movie funk. I just wasn’t really in the mood to watch anything. Luckily, weeks before we got tickets to a special screening of The Birdcage in honor of Nathan Lane’s birthday. It was a much-needed pick me up.

I had never seen it before, and while I knew The Birdcage would be funny, I had no idea just how funny it was. What I love most is the way the characters contrast. You have the two main characters, Armand (Robin Williams) and Albert (Nathan Lane), flamboyantly gay partners. Armand’s son, Val (Dan Futterman) is getting married to Barbara (Calista Flockhart), the daughter of an ultra conservative senator, Kevin (Gene Hackman) and his extremely mild-mannered wife, Louise (Dianne Wiest). It might seem obvious to have the antagonist be a Republican senator when the protagonists are gay men, but it’s not that simple. Armand and Albert might be a bit stereotypical (Armand owns the drag club, The Birdcage, where Albert performs), but they’re not really an average gay couple. They’re way overboard, between where they live and what they wear and how they talk, it’s all totally over the top. But on the flip side, you have Kevin, who is so comically conservative that he’s way overboard, too, almost a caricature. It’s not about having contrast to create conflict, it’s also about showing these characters as equally ridiculous. Is it ridiculous that Albert meets Kevin and his family in drag, pretending to be Val’s mother (whom Val has never met)? Completely. Is it ridiculous that Kevin would say that he doesn’t agree with killing abortion doctors, but he agrees with the outcome it brings? Totally! This movie just makes everyone look insane, which makes all the interactions that crazier, that funnier.

I need to make a special point to talk about how incredible Hank Azaria is in this, too. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane are totally on top of their game, comedy-wise. Gene Hackman is his usual amazing self, and is really particularly funny and perfect for his role. Hank Azaria plays Agador, Armand and Albert’s “houseboy.” I sort of love that they don’t really explain Agador; we first see him trying to help Armand get Albert to go on stage for a show, and he acts as their sort of maid for the rest of the movie. He’s apparently Guatemalan with the most absurd accent that no one questions. He has this one line . . . one line that made both Chris and I die laughing. Val tells Agador that he needs to get ready and put his shoes on because Barbara and her family are almost there, and Agador is dressed but barefoot. Agador very matter of factly explains to Val that he does not wear shoes because they make him fall down. What is that?? That was the last thing I expected him to say, and I know it doesn’t translate all that well to text, but it was so fucking funny. And of course, so was the inevitable shot of Agador falling on his face because of his shoes.

The Birdcage is great because its sensitive. Armand and Albert are overwhelming, but they’re also obviously in love and have quiet, sweet moments together. I never got the impression that this film is supposed to be some kind of commentary on homosexuality, mostly because it focuses so tightly on just a few characters. I also never got that impression because if you do think that this movie is a critique on homosexuality, then it’s just as much of a critique (if not more) of conservative Americans. It is so great.

Christopher

I remember watching this a few times as a kid and thinking it was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen. It was a good feeling when we went to see this and it was still great! I think I got most of it as a kid but as an adult I definitely got a lot more of the jokes. For example, as a kid, I don’t think I got the craziness of Gene Hackman’s character. I think I just always thought of him as a normal adult? But looking at that now, that kind of makes me look like I thought all adults were insane. This movie is so funny and if you have not seen it, please do it now! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original but based off of Elizabeth’s reaction to the film I think we might be seeing that soon.

THE CONVERSATION (1974)

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Christopher

I love this movie more than most and this is a movie I hope to see many more times to come. I would also be really into a poster of it in my apartment. But this movie is so quiet, so intense, and has such an interesting protagonist, it’s pretty much perfect.

Something Elizabeth read to me recently was that this movie lost best picture to The Godfather Part II. So Coppola made both in the same year!?!? That’s completely crazy! The same guy that directed Twixt?!

If you have not seen this, it’s on Netflix, go, right now!

 

Elizabeth

The Conversation is really good and really interesting, and sort of in ways that I really didn’t expect at all. I thought it was going to be about Harry (Gene Hackman), solving some kind of crime based on audio surveillance he was recording. Which is sort of the plot, but not really.

What makes it so different from that is Harry himself. He’s obviously some kind of surveillance genius and is a celebrity within the field. But for all the intelligence he has for that, he’s lacking it in other ways. And is just kind of weird. Like how he pretty much constantly wears a raincoat, no matter what the weather is. Or how he’s super Catholic, which can kind of get in the way of spying on people sometimes. So the movie follows Harry after he’s recorded a couple’s conversation, which Harry suspects will ultimately get the couple killed (something that happened to Harry before). He tries to keep the tapes away from his client, “The Director” (Robert Duvall) and The Director’s assistant, Martin (Harrison Ford). They eventually get the tapes from Harry, who still tries to prevent what he thinks will be the murder of the couple, only to find out he had the crime completely backwards.

So, it’s interesting to have Harry be a bit of an unreliable narrator. Some of it is his fault, with his weird quirks, but some of the unreliability just comes from him misinterpreting the situation. It was nice to see a movie where a normal person tries to be a detective, and fails.

I do have to mention something in particular. This movie came out in 1974, when Harrison was 32 and had just done American Graffiti. So this is pre-Star Wars, pre-Indiana Jones, pre-most Harrison Ford movies. And holy shit. He looks GOOD. Like, distractingly good. He is so insanely good looking that he does not look like a normal person. It’s CRAZY (and awesome).