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27 Things We Learned from Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out Commentary

No Way Out
By  · Published on April 6th, 2016

No Way Out has been one of my favorite thrillers since first seeing it in the late ’80s, and it’s a film I happily re-watch whenever the opportunity arises. Kevin Costner was at his prime here, sandwiched between the likes of Silverado, The Untouchables, Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams, and he delivers a terrifically layered performance as a man at the center of a rushed conspiracy. It’s a suspenseful, fast-moving thriller strengthened by sharp writing, great performances, and a stellar foot chase.

The film has been absent on Blu-ray, but now thanks to the fine folks at Shout! Factory we can finally enjoy it in HD. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the film made my list of 10 Movies We Demand on Blu-ray, or Else! last year, but I don’t need accolades — this classic on Blu-ray is thank you enough. The only special feature on the disc is a new commentary with director Roger Donaldson (Cadillac Man, Species) recorded in November of 2015.

Keep reading to see what I heard on the No Way Out commentary.

No Way Out (1987)

Commentator: Roger Donaldson (director)

1. His first visit to Los Angeles included him visiting the MGM studio and witnessing them filming the lion for the studio’s opening logo. “They were persuading it to roar.”

2. The helicopter shots during the opening credits were accomplished with the aid of a fairly “fearless” pilot from England. They flew the Pentagon and the White House in D.C., “and after a while the air traffic controllers suggested that maybe we shouldn’t be flying quite so low over these establishments and suggested that if we didn’t get out of the area we may well be shot down.”

3. He cast Will Patton in New York City after attending a play in which the actor was starring. They had given Donaldson front row seats to ensure he could watch Patton’s performance closely, but he fell asleep. “I sort of came to, and there’s Will looking down at me, and I had no option but to give him the role.”

4. The film is based on Kenneth Fearing’s novel, The Big Clock, but Donaldson thought it was an original script all the way through production. “I was at a party and ran into Mel Gibson, and he said ‘Oh I heard you made the remake of The Big Clock.'”

5. Cinematographer John Alcott shot the film, and “he had the idea of doing Super 35 and that was to extend the gate of the camera where the soundtrack would normally go on the film, and thereby expose more of the film stock, and you’d get a much bigger, sharper image. And you could do an anamorphic print of the film, which I believe we did do, so it was cropped out of the Super 35 image and shot with spherical lenses rather than anamorphic lenses. I don’t know if anybody understands what I’m saying there, but that’s what happened.”

6. Within days of completing the film Alcott went to France for vacation and died. He was 52 years old.

7. Gene Hackman is one of his favorite actors to work with. “Really, really great guy to work with, no bullshit, just okay where’s my marks, what’s the dialogue, I’ll get on with it. No fuss, just really, really straight forward.”

8. Sean Young arrived at a casting session in New York City and promptly told them she hadn’t memorized any of the dialogue. “She had a lot of attitude,” he says. She instead pointed out that she had written a page from the character’s diary and offered to read that. “It was lovely salacious gossip that she had put down, and it immediately piqued my interest.” He asked her back the next day with some proper dialogue prepared.

9. When he visited D.C. to scout locations he was met at the airport by a long stretch limousine. He’s never been a fan so he asked the driver if he could sit up front with him. “I guess it’s my egalitarian, Aussie roots coming to the fore there.” Donaldson asked if passengers ever got up to mischief in the back, and the driver obliged with some stories. “He was describing to me how he would adjust the mirror and get a good eye-full.” When it came time to shoot the scene Donaldson tracked down the same driver and cast him as the limo driver.

10. The scene where Tom Farrell (Costner) and Susan Atwell (Young) exit the elevator took a few takes, and “every time the doors opened Kevin wasn’t looking too amused. Finally I took Sean aside and said ‘hey you gotta do something in that elevator and put a smile on his face.’ This is the take that made the movie. I don’t know what she did in there, but he sure had a smile on his face when the doors opened.”

11. The D.C. airport goodbye was actually shot at LAX.

12. Orion Pictures sent Donaldson and writer Robert Garland off to New Guinea after production wrapped here to work on a film about Nelson Rockefeller. They ended up not making it.

13. The ship in the storm sequence was filmed in New Zealand where he had also shot a similar storm sequence for The Bounty.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.