Blu-ray Review: Blow Out (1981)

Blow Out BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Brian De Palma

Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz, Peter Boyden, Curt May, John Aquino

Blow Out is a thriller directed by Brian De Palma (Scarface/Carrie)that draws inspiration from real life political scandals and mixes it up with some classic sleuthing that uses the filmmaking technology of the day to piece together the events that take place and apprehend a killer.

Jack Terry (John Travolta – Carrie/Pulp Fiction) is a sound engineer who is trying to capture some new sound effects for a slasher film he is working on. Whilst out one night with his reel-to-reel recorder he records the sound of a car apparently having a blow out and crashing into a nearby creek. Jumping into the water Jack rescues Sally (Nancy Allen – Carrie/Robocop) but is unable to save the driver, who later turns out to be a presidential hopeful.

After being strong-armed to keep quiet about what he saw and heard Jack becomes suspicious when a photographer named Manny Karp (Dennis Franz – Psycho II) claims he took pictures of the crash. Jack splices together a piece of film using Karp’s photographs and puts the audio track he recorded on the night over the top and comes to the conclusion that a gun was fired before the car crashed and that it was really an assassination attempt. At the same time, the gunman (John Lithgow –Cliffhanger) is hunting down and killing women who resemble Sally, as Sally was also supposed to die in the crash, and as Jack begins to piece all of this together he start to find himself in a lot more danger than he originally thought.

Which is basically it, although there are a few more details that you’ll have to find out by watching the film. As is usual with Brian De Palma films there isn’t a lot that is original when you break it down into its individual pieces but such is De Palma’s talent that he manages to make the film feel a little more fresh and different to anything else that was around at the time, making it stand out. His use of split-screen and unusual camera angles is particularly effective here, especially during scenes where telephone calls are being made and intercepted, and his visual tricks all help to keep the relatively simple narrative engaging to watch.

John Travolta is pretty good here, this being before he became something of a caricature and he could still play the everyman fairly convincingly, and his on-screen chemistry with Nancy Allen is as believable as it was when they starred together in De Palma’s Carrie. Dennis Franz plays to type and does his slimy, not-to-be-trusted schtick as well as he always does and John Lithgow is excellent as Burke, the off-his-rocker gunman-turned-serial-killer, but Nancy Allen herself is the only real annoyance as she plays Sally in a slightly dreamy way, especially early on in the film. Naturally, this is a Brian De Palma film and her character isn’t as straightforward as she first appears but it is very hard to tell whether she’s playing dumb or just being deliberately bad and it is only her chemistry with Travolta that keeps her even remotely interesting.

With a lot more going on than your average thriller, Blow Out really plays on the themes of paranoia and guilt that De Palma likes to have running through his films. The scenes involving Jack piecing together his evidence seem dated now in this age of digital technology but it still gives a fascinating insight into how a film is edited and put together to make something watchable, and really adds to the feeling of things not always being as they appear. And when combined with De Palma’s visual flair, some remarkable cinematography and Arrow Video’s ability to put together a decent fan-pleasing package, Blow Out is definitely a solid thriller to add to your collection.

Blow Out

Special Features: Black and White in Colour – an interview with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, Rag Doll Memories – Nancy Allen interview, Return to Philadelphia – an interview with producer George Litto, Multitracking Blow Out – an interview with composer Pino Donaggio about his work with Brian De Palma, photo gallery, original theatrical trailer, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Joe Wilson, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Michael Atkinson, a conversation between Quentin Tarantino and Brian De Palma, illustrated with original archive stills and promotional material.

UK Release Date: 27th May 2013

Arrow Films – Website

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2 thoughts on “Blu-ray Review: Blow Out (1981)

  1. I totally agree with your review, De Palma’s directing can elevate even the most unoriginal material. That said, I think the reason Nancy Allen was playing her character “in a slightly dreamy way, especially early on in the film” could be because she was sedated at the hospital.

    For more De Palma praising you can check out my review if you want, and see what you think:
    https://ashleypurplecamera.wordpress.com/2016/01/23/blow-out-1981/

    Like

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