We often hear about and see movies that are an example of style over
substance, which is those films that are technically more impressive
than the story and characters are. Brian De Palma's "Blow Out," however,
is one of the few films I've seen that is a triumph of both style and
"Blow Out" stars John Travolta in one of his best early roles as a sound
man for a bunch of B-horror movies. It is in the midst of election
season, as well as the 100th-anniversary of the Liberty Bell in
Philadelphia, and while out one night on a bridge recording nighttime
sounds, including tree branches hitting each other, leaves rustling, and
owls hooing, he witnesses a car blow out, which then plunges off the
bridge and into the river. Travolta is able to save the woman inside
(Nancy Allen), but the driver, who turns out to be the Governor, is
killed. Later, while listening to the accident that he got on tape, he
is surprised to hear a bang right before the actual blowout occurred,
and becomes convinced it was a conspiracy to kill the Governor.
Meanwhile, the infamous Liberty Bell Killer is stalking the women of
"Blow Out" is a truly virtuoso thriller that is superbly made in all
aspects, and includes many purely original and visually stunning
moments, including one scene in which, as Travolta slowly replays the
sound on the tape, he visualizes where all of the sounds came from.
Another impressive moment is the first sequence of the picture, a POV
shot in which a killer slowly stalks the residents of a college dorm.
And without giving anything away, the last brilliant moment comes in the
climax, with a giant American flag hanging in the background. All of the
scenes, as well as the rest of the movie, are helped considerably by
Pino Donaggio's unforgettable music score.
Another aspect of "Blow Out" that is refreshing is the amount of layers
the film piles on. On one hand, it is about a conspiracy. There is also
a subplot involving the post-production work of the B-movie they are
making. And then there is the subplot involving the Liberty Bell Killer,
which leads to a few extremely chilling, suspenseful moments. And there
is the political election going on. And the anniversary of the Liberty
Bell. And the sweet relationship that develops between Travolta and
Allen, who has never been better. By the sound of all of these stories,
it may seem like the picture may be overstuffed, but it isn't at all.
Instead, all of these different plotlines add to the atmosphere of the
film, and makes the movie seem richer and more inventive.
"Blow Out" is one of director De Palma's best films, and ranks right up
there with 1976's "Carrie," and 1980's "Dressed to Kill," the former
starring Travolta and Allen, and the latter featuring Allen once again.
Sadly, De Palma has recently fallen on hard times with the recent
disappointment, "Snake Eyes," but "Blow Out" is an example of how great
De Palma can really be.
Copyright © 1998 Dustin Putman