Brian De Palma
- John Travolta as Jack Terry
- Nancy Allen as Sally
- John Lithgow as Burke
- Dennis Franz as Manny Karp
A well crafted thriller that focuses on someone discovering something they weren’t supposed to and how important sound is in the big scheme of things, Blow Out invites you into a suspenseful and intricate web of conspiracy and one man fighting the system. All of this is under the eagle eye vision of Brian De Palma, whose serious approach adds another layer of emotion to a potent and enigmatic cocktail.
Jack Terry is a sound man who while good at his job, has largely spent most of his time working on sleazy horror movies. He has something haunting him from his past, but passes everything off with something of a cynical shrug and smile. Working on yet another low-budget movie, he is struggling to find the perfect scream for the main murder scene. Late one night, he is out recording nature sounds near a bridge. Nothing much is happening until a car veers off the road and into the lake, following a strange sound. Jack jumps in and rescues a young woman by the name of Sally from the car, though he is unable to save the other man who dies. Once at the hospital, Jack swears he heard a gun shot that preceded the blow out and has the sound that could back this up. He grows even more curious when he learns that the man in the car was a presidential candidate who was launching his campaign, but those closest to the man and others tell him to forget what he heard and keep his mouth shut. Getting to know Sally, who is a ditzy and skittish girl who remains coy about what she was doing in the car, Jack attempts to piece together what he heard and just how big the cover up that is forming is willing to go to hide the true events of the ‘accident’. Long story short, it gets very complex. Meanwhile, a mysterious and sinister man known simply as Burke( who has something to do with the tangled events) begins murdering young women in the area, with his plan being to eliminate Sally in the end by making it look like another serial killer crime. Pictures are published of some of the incident by a sleazy blackmailing man Manny Karp, which helps Jack splice a film with his sound that helps suggest that it was murder. Due to the fact that the images aren’t crystal clear poses another stumbling block, yet he also gets to understand the naive Sally a bit better, as she clearly has some involvement albeit as a pawn. Even with proof, no one seems to believe Jack and tell him to let it be. But Jack is not going to remain quiet and soon sets about desperately trying to prove what’s going on. With nearly everyone either turning Jack away or wanting the conspiracy to remain silent, Jack must fight and hopefully uncover the full extent of this cover up before it is erased for good, along with himself and Sally.
Although De Palma has been criticized for overusing visuals to tell a story by some quarters( I personally don’t agree, but that’s a matter of opinion), no one can deny the grim and serious centre of Blow Out, that enables an emotional undercurrent pertaining to Jack and Sally to effectively slot in among the conspiracy. With this neat homage to the equally compelling Blow-Up, De Palma fashions a compelling mystery about political agendas and consequences found when all the stones have been upturned. Paranoia is at its apex here, with the unfurling mystery and various vignettes of what Jack discovers and we as the audience see. De Palma is on deep and sober form with this film, which is reflected in the intricacy of how big the political events and schemes that Jack stumbles on are told, leaving some room for us to fill in with deliberate hints that are never quite as simple as they appear. That isn’t to say that De Palma abandons his trademark style though, as his many brush strokes and composition are well placed and compliment the overall impact of Blow Out. From a riveting scene in which Jack listens to the tape back and it cuts back and forth in time with the sounds it has picked up, the obsessively detailed sequence of Jack to a swirling camera used when Jack finds that someone has erased his tapes, it’s both a stylish film and one that has a startling downbeat tone that slowly feeds into it. Plus, the cinematography of largely red, white and blue bathes Blow Out in a strangely surreal shade that also references the political aspects found in the thriller. Voyeurism plays heavily into Blow Out, with the focus being on ears and all things pertaining to them instead of eyes. And worthy of note is the refusal to adhere to a bravery and heroic ending. Without spoiling it, I’ll say that Blow Out features a gut punch of an end that you won’t see coming and brings with it a haunting tone that colours everything. De Palma’s film is not without the irony that a lot of his work as ( check the opening scene that satirizes cheap horror movies) but the pervading feeling of darkness and tension is what truly makes the film. Sound is frequently manipulated, distorted or raised throughout Blow Out, stressing the importance of what we hear and perhaps the things we aren’t meant to in the first place. As a film that largely concentrates on the impact and overall usage of sound, Blow Out provides a fascinating insight into the mechanics behind it all. Sure some of the technology is different today from what’s depicted here, but the perspective it takes on how crucial it is to cinema allows for compelling nuggets of information. And the score of Blow Out beautifully layers on the mystery and menace in stunning strokes that often match the action perfectly, along with a sorrowful element that comes into fruition later on.
John Travolta is excellently cast as the slowly more determined Jack, who before was slightly cynical about his lack of prospects that his skill as a sound man were wasted on. The crash and what he hears spark him into life, as he discovers a real purpose( in both the mystery and Sally) and Travolta brings an effective amount of idealism and decency that benefits the role. He has that worn, every man quality going on as he unearths just how big the situation is that he has come across and with haunted eyes, you feel for the man as he tries to do the right thing in a climate of danger. Nancy Allen is just as successful, portraying a girl whose niceness and green nature are repeatedly taken advantage of. Kudos to Allen for not playing Sally as a complete bimbo and turning her into someone sympathetic and in over her head. The immense John Lithgow, armed with hardly any dialogue and a stare that could melt ice caps, is the terrifying adversary, whose skills in killing are brutal, efficient and cold-blooded. Seriously, Lithgow is deeply chilling here you feel like you’re in the Arctic whenever he appears. Dennis Franz rocks it as the greasy and oily blackmailer, who would do just about anything for a buck and does so on many occasions.
A grim, tense and even emotional in parts thriller burning with paranoia and unexpected shock, Blow Out showcases Brian De Palma with maturity on the mind and armed with a dark story that flows well with his customary visual style.