Film Review: Blow Out (1981)

Release Date: July 24th, 1981
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz

Cinema 77, Geria Productions, Filmways Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Ya know, the only trouble I ever got into was when I was too careful!” – Sally

After watching Dressed to Kill about a week ago, I didn’t want to waste much time before checking out another neo-noir thriller by Brian De Palma. I decided to go in chronological order so I picked Blow Out over Body Double but I do plan to watch that other one in the very near future.

Another reason why I wanted to get into this one was to see how it measures up to Dressed to Kill, as it came out just a year later and it featured some of the same players in Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz. Also, this re-teams Allen with this film’s lead, John Travolta. The two also starred alongside each other in De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie.

While this is the second film in a row where Allen plays a lady of the night, this character is very different from her character in Dressed to Kill. Here, she is more ditzy and too trusting where in Dressed to Kill, she was sharp as a tack and weary of those around here. I actually really like her in both roles and despite playing similar characters, they’re both different enough to show her range as an actress. And honestly, I’ve underrated her work and didn’t really recognize her ability until seeing her in De Palma’s films.

John Travolta is also on his A-game here and in fact, he’s dynamite. This may be one of the top two or three performances I’ve seen from Travolta and it’s surprising to me that not too long after this, his career sort of floundered and he didn’t bounce back till 1994’s Pulp Fiction.

The real scene stealer though is John Lithgow, who just has the uncanny ability to play crazy, really damn well. He’s played these types of characters multiple times but this is the oldest example of it that I can think of or that I have seen. He’s got the incredible ability to be a lovable patriarch on one had and to be an absolutely chilling bastard on the other. And here, with De Palma’s direction, he is a pretty intense predator that exudes danger from his very presence.

The fact that Travolta’s day job in this film is as a sound engineer for slasher pictures actually adds a lot to the film’s tone and narrative style. While this isn’t a slasher picture, it does present Lithgow as a slasher like character, as he stalks his prey (pretty women) and brutally murders them.

While this film shares a similar tone to Dressed to Kill it is less cerebral and is more of a straightforward political thriller. That certainly doesn’t mean that it is lacking. It still carries on De Palma’s Hitchcockian vibe that has been alive and well in his pictures before this. Because of that, though, this film has an energy and a style to it that is enthralling and intriguing. And despite channeling Hitchcock, De Palma’s films still have a certain panache that is all their own.

Looking at Dressed to Kill and Blow Out side-by-side, I prefer the former. But that doesn’t mean that Blow Out is less of a film. Dressed to Kill was more my cup of tea because it’s damn twisted, somewhat taboo and a bit darker.

That being said, Blow Out is still a fantastic thriller and in the upper echelon of Brian De Palma’s oeuvre.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other noir-esque films: Dressed to Kill and Body Double.

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