After being asked to record new sound effects for the low-budget horror movie he’s working on, Philadelphia sound technician Jack Terry (Travolta) witnesses a car careering off the road and into a river. Managing to save one of the passengers, an escort named Sally (Allen), Jack learns that the dead driver was actually a governor and future presidential candidate. While both the authorities and the governor’s aids are content that the crash was the result of an accidental blow-out, Jack’s recording indicates otherwise…
Over the years, the most common criticism levelled at filmmaker Brian De Palma by his detractors is that he merely steals from Alfred Hitchcock. Importantly though, while nobody could dispute The Master Of Suspense’s influence on his career, what De Palma does is much more than cheap mimicry, having perfected the knack of taking someone else’s tricks and making them feel like his own. Providing proof of this, Blow Out is noticeably comparable to both Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful recording-thriller The Conversation and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Italian arthouse classic Blow-Up, yet somehow it remains very much its own beast.
Held by the director’s fans as one of his best and most underrated works, it’s a largely forgotten thriller which toys with audience perception via the careful combination of image and sound. Despite boasting a rather simple plot, the ongoing conspiracy proves progressively involving, with De Palma infusing proceedings with a cynical and voyeuristic sensibility as well as his own trademark style (splitscreens, long tracking shots). After opening with an extended fake-out sequence from a synthy shock-horror flick, the suspense is often dialled up during a number of well-executed scenes (see the undercover flashback) and memorable moments (such as the train station strangling). A young John Travolta is suitably edgy as the ordinary man who uncovers said conspiracy, while John Lithgow is fantastic as the right-wing nut and Nancy Allen plays the nice-but-dim call girl.
Held by Brian De Palma’s fans as one of his best and most underrated works, it’s a largely forgotten thriller which toys with audience perception via the careful combination of image and sound.