Blow Out Reviews
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.
Travolta's slow motion sprint at end displays all that is wrong with the film - it's all fake and for effect only.
SPOILER ALERT. Should we even remember that Sally was responsible for Manny's death (defending herself from rape)? I know the obedient media will probably report it as an "accident", but still it's a loose end I didn't like left hanging, especially in a thriller.
It can be argued that the story is very basic for a political thriller, however the style and direction of it, takes it to a level of superiority for its genre. Brian de Palma includes great attention to detail and there is a very good dose of suspense throughout his scenes. This means that we, the audience, are not at all sidetracked by the unoriginality of its premise. The acting. Well, Travolta, the protagonist, is superb. He has an element of likeability throughout and portrays such a natural performance; operating in an impressively smooth, efficient and effortless way. Nancy Allen, is not so good. Her portrayal of a ditsy blonde escort almost becomes annoying at times. There are elements to her character but the term 'overacting' comes to mind and her performance can only be described as weak. John Lithgow has to get a mention too. Rarely have I seen a character stoically walk his way through the film as a ruthless killer and carry out such an emotionless and callous role to such great effect.
This is one of the finest films about the process of film-making. It tends to have an old fashioned noir quality, with the momentum building upon mood and suspense. It is enjoyably stylish, if simple, but obtains a good balance. De Palma has an art of stylishly blending his scenes together. 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, all the best tricks in the book are used here.
The ending of the film is set up for a heroic conclusion in the traditional Hollywood mold, but instead the famous 'scream' climax and the haunting epilogue that follows serve as a reminder that with political progress always comes a loss. This generates element of realism, which you find is present throughout.
But a particular mention must go to the opening of the film, which is absolutely brilliant; instantly engaging you and unwittingly getting you on board for the duration. It seems De Palma recognises that at the time of this release, the popular films were that of slasher and science fiction. He uses the opening scene to almost play a joke and show his movement away from horrors and harking back to similar 1970s classic political thrillers like 'The Parrallax View'. De Palma's masterly film conflates Antonioni's Blow-Up and Coppola's 'The Conversation' to produce a potent brew of conspiracy theory and cinematic virtuosity, that is all his own.
9/10 Great film
But the story. What was good wasn't original and what was original wasn't good. A gunshot takes out the front drivers' side tire of a moving car, in the dark, from a distance, (nonsense) causing the car to careen wildly into a creek (nonsense). A B-movie soundman records it all and knows from the beginning what he heard (nonsense). He dives into the creek, at night, in the dark and manages to see into the car and see what he knows is a woman and a dead man (nonsense). In the pitch-black, underwater, he saves the woman (really really unlikely). The story from there is all about him trying to get someone to believe he recorded this unlikely and silly murder plot. The villain even creeps into the police impound and successfully change the tire on the car to hide evidence of the bullet-hole (highly unlikely - both that he could do this, and if he could, why not use these amazing skills to assassinate the politician with a less convoluted, more reliable method to begin with?). The story was set in 1981. There were cassette tapes. Why did the genius soundman rely on annoying cumbersome real-to-real tape? Why didn't he transfer the taped murder to cassette and why didn't he make ten or twelve copies of it? What of the last ten minutes of the movie? The ridiculous car chase scene? Escaping from an ambulance to chase down the killer, with no police keeping an eye on the nut in the Jeep who almost killed countless bystanders? (Nonsense). How about the anti-climactic showdown on the roof? All that running and suspense trying to save the annoying chick - she dies anyway. Half of the movie was the hero's wasted effort. He kills the bad guy and somehow escapes it all unseen by cops and witnesses. After he escaped from the ambulance and cops after almost running over half of Philadelphia. (Nonsense). He lets the cops and media somehow draw the conclusion that the murdered girl killed her assailant while being murdered by him. Then the ending. The soundman hero has found the perfect movie scream his employers have been seeking as a subplot all through the movie. It's in his tape-recorded actual screams of the real girl being murdered. Very tasteful. Despite this success, the soundman can't bear to listen to the recorded screams, although he didn't balk at using them for sound effects. I wonder if Travolta can bear watching this idiotic movie. It was almost two hours of my life I'll never get back. By the time it was almost over, I was rooting for Lithgow, praying he would murder DePalma.