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If you liked F/X, you'll probably like Blow Out and vice versa because both
films involve a person who uses their craft to solve a highly corrupt case
While F/X's Rollie Tyler was a special effects engineer, our hero in Blow Out is a sound technician who must piece together parts of a sound recording (along with some other vital information from other sources along the way) to solve the murder of the gubernatorial candidate, a death which the police have written off as a homocide. Travolta employs Nancy Allen's help, a rather dumb prostitute who was in the car with the victim when their car ran off the bridge, but who is the only survivor and essential key to unlocking the mystery. They are dealing with a very relentless killer who will stop at nothing to make sure the trail of evidence leading to him is eliminated.
It is a typical DePalma movie in that it is done with many Hitchcock elements (they didn't call him the master of suspense for nothing) and also that he works with movies-in-a-movie (see 'Body Double' and 'Dressed to Kill'). It is an enjoyable crime and mystery movie in the days when John Travolta movies were still fun to watch.
In 1981, Brian De Palma released what might be considered his "best"
thriller to date. The "Slasher" genre was at full blossom, and the
conspiracy driven, psychological thrillers of the 1970s were slowly
declining in terms of popularity.
"Blow Out" stars John Travolta as Jack, a sound engineer for an independent movie picture, that discovers what first appears to be a tragic car-accident - is in fact a murder. Sally, who is rescued from the wreck by the protagonist (Travolta) himself stays as his counterpart though out the movie. Jack must set the story straight, and prove the police wrong.
De Palma is known for his themes of guilt, paranoia and obsession which work as essential parts for the character development in "Blow Out". It's a hell of ride from start to finish, and one can truly state that Brian De Palma is a master of suspense.
The acting of John Travolta is superb and convincing, and I dare to say that it's his best role to date. I was a bit skeptical to Nancy Allen at first, but her naive character grew on me over the course of the film, and might actually be one of the things that makes this film so great; that is believable character development without the often sudden change of identity.
Blow out is stylish, and both the directing of De Palma and cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond is highly impressive. From beautifully shot scenes in the vein of Francis Ford Coppola to the drastic suspense of Hitchcock, De Palma uses all the best tricks in the book.
"Blow Out" is non-stop suspense thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. The last 15 minutes finale is quite extraordinary. The atmosphere, mood and cinematography are all close perfect. It truly is Brian De Palma's forgotten masterpiece.
Blow Out runs with an idea and makes it work. Brian De Palma uses the
idea from Blowup (obsession over one real-time element involving
murder), and transfuses it into his usual, dependable form of the
suspense picture. He finds the right cast to take it through as well.
This script could be taken in the wrong hands and made into lessor
material, perhaps. But often it's not even the script that is as
grabbing (though it does, being De Palma in his prime, have its share
of wit and sweetly honest moments) as is the direction. This is a
filmmaker very much in trusting with a specific storytelling style that
suits the nature of the subject matter. You've got a protagonist thrust
into a deceptive, shadowy kind of element, and because its a star in
that role propelling it- alongside some 'choice' villains, it's never
too unbelievable in its own sort of world.
John Travolta (in a role displaying a little more of his range than usual) is a sound recorder for low-budget horror movies, and going over a particular crash into a river one night by a curious couple of subjects, the audio drives him into an obsession. But the story doesn't dwell fervently into it like Blowup did (then again only Antonioni, or maybe Coppola with his The Coversation, could make it that deep into it), and in a way it doesn't need to. With Nancy Allen, a cute, talented actress, there's the other part of the story to drive it forth, as she plays the passenger in the car who may or may not know more than she'll tell, even to her rescuer Travolta. Then along the way we meet some shady people including Dennis Franz and John Lithgow's characters (the latter especially, in a role un-like him but made all the more compelling for it). It leads to a climax that is one of De Palma's best as well.
Blow Out doesn't kid its main audience, and thats where it finds its strengths. It's in a realm of the psychological, but it doesn't steep itself too much to become more of an experimental film like De Palma's earlier films. It also lacks some of the weaker qualities that have come in some of his later films (i.e. a good deal of plausibility or lack of caring about the characters). It at times shows its gritty side (i.e. Franz's scenes), and it also includes some great scenes between Travolta and Allen. Simply put, it's a well-done movie.
Brian De Palma does it again with his versions of classic moments from other movies. In this one we have the 'homages' to "Blow-Up" and "Rear Window". Throw in a psychopath with an extended scene of him killing someone that does nothing to further the plot. Add a ridiculous car chase through a parade. Then top it off with a twist ending that comes off mean-spirited and sleazy. Let's not forget the uninspired performances by Nancy Allen and John Travolta. At least Allen's character is supposed to be not very bright but Travolta, for someone as smart as he is supposed to be, makes some pretty stupid decisions (the main one being letting Allen meet with the reporter alone). What do we get? The usual De Palma mishmash that leaves the viewer unfulfilled. At least when De Palma made "Body Double" it looks like he learned his lesson from this movie and made the "Body Double" ending more satisfying.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oh, it must be so wonderful to write thrillers that don't have to
follow any kind of logic at all... De Palma mixes his usual ingredients
in this conspiratorial tale: absurdity, illogicality and
far-fetchedness. Apart from all that, it is a well-made film (not meant
sarcastically) that doesn't capture the mood of the original,
"Blow-Up", which it tries to imitate - but at least De Palma doesn't
make a secret out of that, hence the title. The good things about the
film: Travolta is surprisingly good here and there is suspense. But
Lithgow's character is ridiculous; he is knee-deep into the
assassination of a potential presidential candidate, yet he finds the
time and interest to kill women in his free time, sort of hobby-wise.
De Palma is like an idiot genius: great directing talent combined with a total inability to think logically. Either that, or the man has such contempt for the viewer that he simply doesn't give a flying f*** about logic. And this, among other things, is what separates him from the highest echelon: people like Kubrick and Scorsese are film-makers, De Palma is a director. If you're interested in reading my biographies of Travolta and other Hollywood people, contact me by e-mail.
John Travolta is a sound engineer out in the woods during the dead of
night trying to record some woods type noises for the latest film he's
working on when he sees an accident in which a state governor is
killed, a potential presidential candidate. He also records the
distinct sound of a gunshot before the car went off a bridge and into a
creek at night. Travolta also dives into the creek and rescues Nancy
Allen, but is unable to save the male in the car. He finds out later
about his VIP status.
Director Brian DePalma obviously used a twist on the tragedy at Chappaquiddick as the basis for Blow Out. The title comes from the official police investigation where they say the car had a blowout which caused the accident, but Travolta insists on his version. And his sticking to the story is making a lot of people uncomfortable.
Travolta does a nice job in a film role that a generation or two earlier James Stewart might have done, the average every man who gets heroic status thrust upon him. He's an ordinary man, but he wants the truth to come out.
Look also for some good performances by Dennis Franz as a sleazy photographer and John Lithgow as a very thorough killer who really loves his job. He not only wants to hide his murder in a forest, he plants his own forest so to speak.
Brian DePalma keeps the tension moving at all times in a manner worthy of Hitchcock. It was a good part for John Travolta, one of the last he would get acclaim for for some time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Brian DePalma is actually one of my favorite directors! Interesting
thing is that for quite of a few of the films of his that I had the
privilege of seeing when they first came out that I loved immediately
(The Untouchables, Carlito's Way, Mission Impossible), I hadn't really
realized he directed them at the time that I first saw them. And I
think was a good thing! Being very young at the time, I didn't know or
care about the craft of directing and just watched movies for pure
enjoyment. BLOW OUT (1981) came out when I was very young and certainly
isn't the type of movie that I would have been interested in at the
time anyway. But this may be DePalma's most mature film!
DePalma is famously known for "borrowing" from Hitchcock in his films and Blow Out is perhaps a supreme example of that as much of the plot combines elements of both revered films Blow Up and The Conversation. But this film feels more original, even with the homage, than some of DePalma's other early 80s tips of the hat to Hitchcock, which either did an admirable job paying homage but still seemed derivative (Dressed to Kill) or copied so heavily that it devolved into parody (Body Double). Blow Out is more even toned, well paced, and treats the viewer with respect.
Blow Out stars iconic John Travolta in what very well could be his true BEST film performance! There is not a single false note in Travolta's performance the whole way through the film, which itself has flaws. I use "retrospect" in my title b/c if anything, Travolta gives an Oscar-caliber performance in BLOW OUT, maybe even more so than in his actual nominated roles in Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction. Travolta's Jack Terry is truly "authentic", a real person, not some over-the-top character designed to win an Oscar, which is exactly why this is a true Oscar type performance...It is true and real!
Not as good as Travolta, but still effective is Nancy Allen as a dimwitted prostitute, whose character actually grows on you as the film progresses due to how actually "innocent" she is in all of this. But she skewers a fine line at times of being a classic "Hitchcock" heroine and the obligatory sexy female in an early 80s movie!
Much closer to being as good as Travolta is John Lithgow, who is truly scary as the "villain" of the piece Burke, who goes to the absolute extreme to discredit his candidate's competition, but we never really get a complete handle on his character. What's interesting is that even though it is technically a conspiracy, Burke is really operating alone in the murder aspect of the plot so he seems like a separate entity from his political bosses, who had no idea how crazy he was. So his part of the film has ties to Psycho.
The conspiracy part itself is strangely downplayed throughout the film and appears to be the biggest MacGuffin ever, as the end of the movie shows how futile Jack's attempts at getting to the truth really were. It's one of the most truly tragic endings I've ever seen in a film.
Blow Out is very interesting as it has a lot of mystery and ambiguity throughout even with knowing that there is actually a conspiracy and political intrigue. It's never clear who is pulling the strings and it seems like everyone is on board with hiding things (the hospital, the cops, the press) EXCEPT for Jack Terry! And Jack's personal motivation for nailing the conspirators borders on obsession and selfishness at times more so than for doing it because it is right, which is part of what makes the film fascinating. Even more so than most of Hitchcock's most acclaimed works, Blow Out has a cynicism and pessimism in characters and society that is unmatched. It's definitely one of the most unconventional films of the 80s and in the thriller genre itself.
Yet another strong thriller from Brian De Palma was this intriguing and
solidly-well made tale.
Sound FX man records the unwitting murder of a government official and soon finds himself in a deadly conspiracy.
Blow Out is the kind of juicy thriller that audiences have come to expect from De Palma. The story of this film has plenty of good suspense and action to drive the viewer along. It also has a surprising amount of black humor, especially with that terrific 'slasher movie' setup and the films ironic conclusion. Helping all the more is De Palma's usual stylish direction and his impressive camera work (the films climatic fireworks image is quite memorable). Pino Donaggio's music is also a welcomed addition.
Cast-wise the film is quite good, John Travolta being the best here in one of his greatest roles.
All around, Blow Out is a rewarding and nicely done thriller that stands as yet another testament to the cinematic brilliance of Brian De Palma.
*** 1/2 out of ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Arguably Brian De Palma's best film. John Travolta is a B-movie sound man who may or may not have recorded a political assassination. De Palma's camera is on overdrive with this film...it never ceases moving. The plot, a rift on the classic BLOW-UP, takes plenty of twists and turns and the film does not cop out at all. Travolta is great (this was his first "grown up" role) and he's well teamed with Nancy Allen. John Lithgow is a suitably nasty assassin and De Palma regular Dennis Franz is in it too. This is De Palma at his best as he brings together a stellar cast & crew. Paul Hirsch did the editing, The creepy music is by Pino Donaggio and the cinematography is by Vilmos Zsigmond. A triumph.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've been loving Brian De Palma's work in the past year or so. He has
the schlocky sensibilities of William Castle, but a cinematic style
that is pure Hitchcock. 'Blow Out (1981)' was obviously inspired by
high- class films; its title references Antonioni's celebrated
mystery/thriller 'Blowup (1966),' and the story borrows heavily from
Coppola's 'The Conversation (1974).'
But the film itself begins like the trashiest of 1970s slasher horrors, taking the first-person view of a serial killer as he stalks through a "typical" sorority house. De Palma delights in the over-the-top titillation of it all, ultimately playing the viewer for a sucker: this opening sequence is actually a scene from a tasteless B-movie on which our protagonist Jack (John Travolta) is working as a sound-effects editor. Sound is an essential part of the film.
While recording night-time audio for his movie, Jack witnesses a passing car plunge into the river. He rescues a woman (Nancy Allen) from the water, but the driver, a future Presidential candidate, dies. Details of the accident are covered up as quickly as possible. When he listens to his tape recording, Jack thinks he hears a gunshot preceding the blow out of the car's tyres. Has he captured evidence of a political assassination? And how far will "they" go to destroy the evidence?
De Palma's stylistic flourishes are unmistakable, but they rarely distract from the story. In one scene, recalling the steady pull-back from an impending murder in Hitchcock's 'Frenzy (1972),' the camera literally swoops away from a bloody murder scene into a bustling street of oblivious pedestrians. (De Palma once again used a shot like this in 'Scarface (1983)' for the notorious chainsaw scene). In another sequence, when Jack realises that his tapes have been magnetically erased, the camera begins to rotate, and doesn't stop, superbly capturing the euphoria of the character's predicament.
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