"Blow Out" isn't the most popular thriller in existence, and usually I'd have the ability to seek out the sources to why it's so obscure and even forgotten, but alas, there are none. Besides...I don't think it's all that forgotten anymore. The film, written and directed by the exquisite Brian DePalma, was recently re-issued through the Criterion Collection; and they have never been so right about giving a first-rate thriller another chance at success. There is an audience for "Blow Out". There always has been. Yet, I hear nobody talking about it, hardly anybody I know has seen it, but I want to change that as much as I can. Here we go.
Plenty of people admire DePalma. His films are richly drenched in suspense, beautifully shot, and masterfully crafted. Aside from "Scarface", I believe that this is one of the best DePalma films yet. That either means something to you or it doesn't, and if it doesn't, then you might as well forget about ever seeing this wonderful and skillfully-made thriller. And that, my friend, is too bad for you.
However, with a plot that references "Blowup" and dozens of other films references as well, "Blow Out" is an instantly appealing film when it comes to my personal taste. I read the plot synopsis on the back of the Criterion DVD and was immediately compelled to watch it. I'm glad I did. This is one of the best thrillers I've seen.
Jack (John Travolta) is a sound effects man for low-budget sleaze-fest horror films. He's working his way up slowly-and-slowly, but he enjoys his job. When we first meet him, the only thing on his mind - and the only problem weighing him down at the moment - is getting the right female-scream sound effect for a film he's working on. His co-workers, higher beings in the business, demand it.
However, one night while testing out some tech, Jack is witness to an accident involving a car that crashes head-first into a lake. Desperate to help anyone who might be contained and trapped inside, Jack explores the car whilst underwater and saves a young woman that he discovers. She is Sally (Nancy Allen), a prostitute with deep, dark secrets of her own that she keeps hidden from Jack throughout the film.
Jack recorded the sounds that accompanied the crash. He becomes increasingly obsessed with the noises that he hears; one in particular, which he perceives to be a gunshot. He's then convinced that the crash was the ugly result of an assassination attempt, and Sally was meant to die along with her ill-fated driver. Jack then plunges into a deep, dark world of obsession and madness; while a mysterious, stalker-type character (John Lithgow) hides in the shadows and refuses to reveal itself.
What I like about thrillers is that they can involve us in their insanity. They can have characters that are howling mad, sure, but none-the-less human. Jack is one of those characters, and I believe that Travolta brings out the best and the worst in the character. In the end, we get a tragedy as surprisingly moving as the one in David Cronenberg's "The Fly", and a thriller as moving and involving as any old classic that isn't as lesser-known as this one. Here is a movie that deserves attention.
This is one of the most original works by Brian DePalma, and it shows. He can be a genius when he wants to be, a sleaze-bag when he chooses, and a mediocre filmmaker of mediocre movies when he refuses to try at all. Here, he tries; oh yes he does. He references other filmmakers, other films, and even historical events. This is creative movie-making; interestingly shot, beautifully acted, and pretty much flawless. The story reminds me of a possibly non-existent or perhaps-existent episode of "The Twilight Zone". And it keeps reminding me of the popular horror-thriller television program throughout. There is excitement, intelligence, and new life to be found here. And that is why it's a great movie, a great experience; a great time. It truly is unique.