Blow Out (1981)

blow out

During the post-production of Dressed to Kill, Brian De Palma came up with an amazing idea to make a thriller out of a film’s editing process. Using bits and pieces from a previous script he had written, De Palma quickly wrote, directed and released Blow Out less than a year after the release of Dressed to Kill. The film sadly bombed but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming widely celebrated and amassing a huge cult following.

Blow Out features a classic and well-trodden plot. John Travolta is Jack Terry, a sound technician for low budget exploitation films. When out one night recording sounds for his latest project, Terry unknowingly records the homicide of a Presidential candidate. The homicide is disguised as an accidental car crash into a lake, and prompts Terry to jump into the water to save a woman from the sinking car. Terry and the girl, Sally (Nancy Allen), are told to keep quiet by powerful political figures, but Terry decides to use his recordings to unravel the mystery of the dead pollie.

blow out posterDue to the film becoming a box office bomb, John Travolta’s career started to slide following Blow Out. Despite that, the film stands as one of his best efforts on screen. Travolta wonderfully delivers all the curious, paranoid and hard-nosed attributes of the character. He has a tendency to overact, Travolta keeps that in check and gives a very controlled performance. The supporting cast members aren’t as strong, Nancy Allen is a weak actress as a whole and she is never fully able to provide the audience with a satisfying female lead here. John Lithgow is suitably creepy as hired gunman Burke, even if he isn’t given a lot to do. None of this greatly matters though, Travolta’s Terry is the focus and he hits a homerun.

De Palma is a director mostly criticised for making films that are style over substance. As Blow Out is a thriller and is made to be entertaining, substance is never as important as the film’s style. The style completely drives Blow Out, with De Palma using inventive ways to visualise the sound which is the force behind the film. The crash scene and the intense finale are both stunning examples of De Palma’s genius use of visuals and sound.

Aside from Nancy Allen’s performance, the only compliant worth nothing is the crazy final act which turns a classy well-rounded paranoid-thriller into a b-grade slasher film. It isn’t terrible, just doesn’t feel right in the context of the rest of the film. It seems to be an issue with the sub-genre, as I have final-act issues with similar films like The Conversation and Berberian Sound Studio. That said the final scene is delightfully unsettling, it is an unexpected but perfect way to end Blow Out.

Blow Out is the flashy, more mainstream, little brother of The Conversation. That isn’t an insult, both films are brilliant but for different reasons. Whilst The Conversation gets in your head, Blow Out gets under your skin by delivering a sufficient amount of thrills, creepy imagery & sounds and a final scene for the ages. The mystery is has been done to death, but never with this much style and flair.

4.0 out of 5.0

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