Blow Out Reviews
Brian De Palma certainly knows how to end a movie. In 'Blow Out', the finale in question is endlessly bleak, and hopelessly real. It kind of reminded me of De Palma's very own 'Carlito's Way' - another movie that ends with a chase sequence in a train station and the death of one of its protagonists. It's quite easy to see why viewers may be a little, shall we say, unhappy with the way the film concludes, but I think it works perfectly. It fits with the tone that it's set itself - a condemning look at government intervention and conspiracy. Released in 1981, there's no doubt that De Palma was heavily influenced by the numerous scandals and/or conspiracies of the previous 20 years; whether it be the JFK assassination or the Watergate Scandal. The ending, in all its bleakness, serves as a dour but necessary warning about the corruption of those at the top - and highlights the unfortunate helplessness of the normal individual to do anything about it. From a filmmaking standpoint, it's everything you would expect from De Palma - gorgeous cinematography and exciting direction. I also particularly loved the long sequences of Travolta's character sound mixing and editing together the film. There's just something about seeing the process of filmmaking on screen that appeals to me immensely. Not only that, but it's a constant reminder in the backdrop that what we are indeed watching is a film also; yet Travolta's emotion in the final shot goes to show that, sometimes, they end up resembling real life a little more than you initially would have thought. A very well made, highly entertaining political thriller.
The premise is right up his ally. Tarantino has an intense passion for the history of cinema and this movie delivers a very unique, interesting, and now ancient aspect of the filmmaking process that is rarely explored. John Travolta plays a pre-digital age soundman who is responsible for creating and mixing the audio tracks of B-horror flicks for a demanding & sleazy producer. When asked to capture some new wind noise he heads to the local park and begins recording. This was easily my favorite scene of the film. There is a wonderfully edited series of interesting cuts, close-ups, and sound effects that create a slow burning build to the catalytic moment of the movie.
The story centers around the unraveling of a conspiracy and is about the feeling of helplessness when up against forces that seem too ominous to defeat. John Travolta is awesome as the paranoid soundman haunted by his past attempting to redeem himself by seeking justice against all odds. It's one of his best performances.
Some of the other characters are a little to stereotypically written and acted for my taste, all though in a strange way it was also part of the charm. This feels very much like a b-movie that's been elevated to cult classic through the artful direction of DePalma -- which, by the way, is a pretty accurate way to describe most of Tarantino's movies.
My favorite scenes were always when Travolta was working with his sound equipment and using his skills to recreate the inciting incident. My least favorite scenes were with his love interest played by Nancy Allen. I'm not offended by the helplessness and stupidity of her character, some people are just helpless and stupid, but it just became obnoxious. However, that is a very small complaint for such an entertaining movie.
The only reason I didn't give this a higher rating is that I couldn't make much of an emotional connection. That could be due to the fact that I was studying it more than I was immersing myself in it, or that it is a few decades old and I am an arrogant and entitled millennial, or maybe I am just a sociopath, but either way it didn't have enough of an emotional punch to suck me in and force me to forget I was reviewing it.
That firework scene at the end, wow. I didn't know they could make death so pretty.
Overall, fantastic movie with captivating visuals, a suspenseful storyline, and a wonderful approach to storytelling and cinematography. This deserves a re watch.
The use of sound (particularly in the extremely suspenseful climactic chase sequence), Travolta's driven performance, the inquisitive score by Pino Donaggio, the balanced direction by Brian De Palma, and the exquisite editing by Paul Hirsch all make this film a cut above the rest. It is a film that is keenly aware of the sound in the world around it in a way that I've never seen before.
One of the best political thrillers and one of Brian de Palma's best films, Blow Out features John Travolta in top notch performance as a sound engineer for an independent film making company in Philadelphia which specializes in cheesy soft-porn/slasher films: while out recording night sounds on a creekside for his audio library he sees a car plunge into the water and dives in to save the female passenger but too late to save the male driver, who turns out to be a leading candidate for the US presidency. Later, he realizes from the sounds he recorded that the blow out which caused the accident was caused by a gunshot, something which understandably the powers that be don't want known. Nancy Allen's deliberately flighty performance as the rescued woman provides a perfect foil to Travolta's solidness, and the convoluted plot unfolds through both obvious and subtle allusions to historical events (Chappaquiddick, Dallas) and classic cinema (the title's resemblance to Blow Up is not accidental, and the scenes of mayhem in public venues like a large train station or a patriotic fireworks display where the crowds have no idea what's happening are very Hitchcockian.) Rated R for elements which don't seem all that shocking today. An extremely interesting film. The Criterion special edition DVD is as good as you would expect.