Movie Night: Blow Out

MoviesConventional wisdom holds that movies about “the industry” don’t connect with middle America. You know what? If that’s the case, then screw middle American sensibilities — I liked this movie.

Granted, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is most assuredly a product of its time — 1981 — and has plot holes a mile wide (I’m sorry, but you don’t drive like a maniac through a Philadelphia parade and then just get on with your life afterward). And no doubt at the time, it was intended as just another star vehicle for John Travolta. But what makes this movie a fun ride is the story. Or, more specifically, the idea: An “earwitness” to a political assassination rather than the usual eyewitness.

The performances are serviceable, if not remarkable. John Travolta is... well, John Travolta, post-Saturday Night Fever, but pre-Look Who’s Talking. Future RoboCop co-star (and early De Palma regular) Nancy Allen holds her own in a role that really doesn’t require her to do much more than be there and act ditzy; Dennis Franz (also one of De Palma’s early stable of actors) puts in an appearance in an equally thankless role. Perhaps the best of the bunch is John Lithgow, back when he was still playing a wider range of characters — going in, I didn’t think I’d be able to get past the indelible impression of him as a comic actor, but you know what? He’s pretty damned scary when he wants to be.

In terms of De Palma’s work overall, this can’t come near to approaching the genius that is The Untouchables. And in terms of generating suspense, he doesn’t come close to Hitchcock level (though it’s still just as interesting an exercise to pick out his signature “moves” toward that end). But, as with his Body Double to follow, Blow Out does a great job of using movie industry conventions to make you look at things just a bit differently.

Or in this case, listen to things.


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