Montreal Film Journal


Brian De Palma is far from being your usual Hollywood director. First of all, he has much more experience than most other filmmakers, with more than 30 years behind the camera. He's also often a case or love him or hate him. His style will appear to you as either brilliant or just flashy and meaningless, and not everyone can handle the sometimes extremely strong imagery he comes up with. Just think of the blood covered "Carrie" or of the chainsaw and cocaine snorting scenes in "Scarface"! De Palma has also been often criticized for stealing many tricks from his mentor, Alfred Hitchcock. His filmography is uneven but always interesting. His biggest hit was probably 1996's "Mission: Impossible", but he made many other memorable films, notably "Carlito's Way". Tarantino, for one, is a huge fan of De Palma, and he even claims that "Blow Out" is the second best film he's ever seen (after "Rio Bravo", just above "Taxi Driver"). That intrigued me, so when I saw this film for sale for 4 bucks, I jumped on it.

John Travolta plays Jack, a guy who does sound effects for cheapie gore flicks. He's an interesting, well developed character, and Travolta portrays him very well as an always very aware and bright guy. He used to work for the police, but after a messy operation, he quit the force. And now, once again, he's heading for trouble. While recording sounds in the woods at night, Jack records a car accident. The vehicle loses control and falls from a bridge into a creak. Jack dives in and saves the life of a girl, but the driver dies. The next day, Jack learns that the dead man was none other than one of the two Presidential candidates. He then listens to the tape over and over and starts thinking that this might not be an accident. As the plot thickens, we meet more suspicious characters such as a sleazy photograph (Dennis Franz) and John Lithgow as a mysterious serial killer who may be related to the conspiracy.

Besides the acting, what makes this film work is De Palma's writing and direction. The script borrows from various historical evens, headlines and other movies (mostly Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 "Blow Up"). Yet, it all works surprisingly well and stands as its own. The story is filled with twists, and it really challenges our intelligence. For once, a thriller who really goes to unexpected places. And, man, is De Palma an awesome director! There are many, many brilliant sequences in the film and plenty of cool visual tricks. I especially like the scenes in which Travolta tries to figure things out. He's all alone in his studio with photos and the recording, and he reconstitutes the car crash. No exposition dialogue, nothing. We understands everything at the same time as Travolta. Trust me, that's one hell of an accomplishment. You need a very, very good actor and perfectly crafted and edited shots. There are many more moments in the film when I had to rewind to watch a shot again because I couldn't believe my eyes. I tell you, some shots are very clever! De Palma is also great at building suspense, not by an overly dramatic score or by cheap fright shots, but by carefully disposing plot elements and characters and letting them cross and tangle t to the riveting climax. Blow Out is one of De Palma's best films, right up there with "Scarface" and "Carrie".