The Daily Stream: No Way Out Is A Perfectly '80s Neo-Noir Thriller

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "No Way Out"

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video

The Pitch: U.S. Navy golden boy Lt. Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) meets an alluring woman named Susan Atwell (Sean Young) and the two strike up a romance, despite the fact that Susan is the mistress of someone relatively high up in the U.S. government. But Farrell quickly realizes that the other man Susan is seeing his David Brice (Gene Hackman), the Secretary of Defense – and Farrell's new boss. When Susan ends up dead and Farrell poised to be framed as the killer, he must race against the clock – and some fun 1980s computer technology – to prove his innocence and catch the real killer.

Why It's Essential Viewing

Roger Donaldson ("Cocktail," "Species," "The Recruit") directed this sexy, engaging, and expertly paced thriller, which stands out as one of the best neo-noirs of the 1980s. It's a movie that knows exactly what it wants to be, immediately falls into the proper groove, clearly establishes the central relationship and the dramatic stakes at play, and wonderfully ratchets up the action and suspense as the walls slowly tighten around its protagonist. 

Costner is superb as Farrell. This is one of those instances of an actor's real-life age enhancing their performance: he's 32 years old here, still young enough to read as a hotshot on screen, but just old enough to believably portray the type of ambitious go-getter who would be hand-picked by a powerful government official. This is arguably Costner's best era as a performer, long before he settled into the type of grizzled mentor figure that has defined the latter stages of his career. This film is sandwiched amid his run of "The Untouchables," "Bull Durham," and "Field of Dreams," and in terms of quality, "No Way Out" can stand toe to toe with all of those.

As the film's femme fatale figure, Sean Young brings a surprising amount of depth to a role that is comparatively underwritten. But she's more than just the typical icy, emotionally distant sexpot that often populates movies like this: she adds real warmth to her character, and her chemistry with Costner is undeniable. (Side note: it is absolutely wild to realize that both of them had only been acting professionally on screen for about seven years by the time this movie came out.)

Hackman isn't in the movie as much as I'd prefer, but he is reliably excellent as the Secretary of Defense, an imposing and ruthless presence who tries to utilize Farrell's squeaky-clean image to gain an advantage against his political rivals. Brice's right-hand man, the fiercely loyal and conniving Scott Pritchard, is played by Will Patton ("Remember the Titans"), and Patton brings an air of quiet menace to the proceedings as he does whatever is necessary to protect his boss – even murder.

Computer, Enhance

In addition to its fantastic performances and gripping story, one of the reasons I wanted to recommend "No Way Out" is because of a subplot involving a hilarious example of the classic "zoom and enhance" trope. During one of their romantic interludes, Susan Atwell takes a Polaroid photograph of Farrell in her apartment, who playfully yanks it out of the camera too early because he didn't want there to be any evidence of his presence there. When the ruined photo is later discovered by Pritchard, he takes it to the Pentagon and has a tech team scan it in the hopes that they can decipher who is in the photo – according to Pritchard, whoever is in the photo must be the person who killed Atwell. But since this movie came out in '87, it takes days for the Pentagon's computers to "develop" the image, which is displayed on a TV monitor and slowly (agonizingly slowly) comes into focus. It's ridiculous, yes, but it also serves as a visual ticking clock for Costner's character, raising the stakes even higher and putting the pressure on him to figure out a way to clear his name before the entire government discovers his secret.