35 years on, Blow Out is still one of the greatest thrillers of all time
Showing no sign of aging after 35 years, Brian De Palma’s note perfect thriller Blow Out is still one of the most dynamic and exciting films ever made.
Working as the sound technician on a cheap exploitation movie, Jack Terry (John Travolta) happens to be recording the exact moment a major political opponent crashes his car into a creek, killing himself and nearly drowning his passenger, call girl Sally (Nancy Allen). Convinced he’s accidentally captured a political assassination, Jack enlists Sally to help him uncover the conspiracy, drawing both into the path of a psychotic hitman (John Lithgow) looking to tie up loose ends.
Few directors create outrageously theatrical set pieces and suspense quite like Brian De Palma, and Blow Out might just be his masterpiece (and this is from the director of Carrie and Scarface). From the hilariously trashy opening film-within-a-film, to the gorgeously designed sequence in which Terry searches for the perfect sound, to the virtually flawless third act, Blow Out is outstanding, in large part due to De Palma’s bombastic direction. Helicopter shots, split-screen, Steadicams; everything but the kitchen sink is used to create a non-stop thrill ride.
As Jack, the soundman falling deeper into the rabbit hole of political corruption and conspiracy, Travolta gives one of the greatest performances of his career. Like all of Travolta’s best performances, Jack Terry has a sleazy-going charm (see: Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction), but Travolta pushes it further as the film gets darker and darker. Plagued with insomnia during the shoot, Travolta is all wild eyes and nervous jitters, effortlessly assuming the audience role of the amateur detective trying to solve the central mystery. His final scene will chill you to the bones.
Ably supporting Travolta are Nancy Allen and John Lithgow, both terrific in contrasting roles. As the hooker with a heart of gold, Allen is wonderful. Refreshingly, she’s not a love interest but a sleuth and revenge-seeking victim, just as eager to get involved with the investigation as Travolta. Lithgow, meanwhile, is terrifying as the hitman so desperate to cover his tracks that he goes on a killing spree, murdering prostitutes to get to Allen. The skincrawling scene where he stalks, seduces, and strangles a woman in a train station is one of the great villain performances of the eighties.
Elevating what could have been a lurid B-movie into an artful thriller, De Palma carried on the legacy of his hero Alfred Hitchcock with this stunning directorial effort. Working with a talented cast and a phenomenal camera and sound department, De Palma was never quite as perfect in his excess and style. Blow Out is the highlight of his career, and one of the most underrated, misunderstood classics of its era.
By Harry J. Ford
Follow Ford On Film on twitter: @Ford_On_Film
Like Ford On Film on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FordOnFilm/