Blow Out (1981)

(On Cable TV, March 2018) I hadn’t seen Blow Out in at least thirty years, so it’s funny to see what sticks and what doesn’t—my childhood memories of seeing the film (in French, on broadcast TV “prestige” Saturday evening showing) included the ending shot and the “animated film” sequence but little else. I think I learned of the Chappaquiddick political scandal after watching the film, which is really weird in retrospect. Watching the film as a seasoned thriller fan, I was a bit more impressed by director Brian de Palma’s ability to create suspense and memorable sequences through directorial audacity. John Travolta is surprisingly good (and young!) as a sound-effect technician who ends up embroiled in a political assassination conspiracy—with no less than an even younger-looking John Lithgow as an effectively creepy antagonist. Blow Out moves quickly and doesn’t have too many dull moments. While some character motivations are suspect (as in; the protagonist seeing the heroine again for no other reason that she’s attractive) and the coincidences in the plot defy credibility, but de Palma knows what he’s doing (just watch that opening shot) and the look at exploitation filmmaking at the eve of the eighties is simply fascinating—the period feel of the era’s technology, complete with tapes and physical cutting, is now one of the film’s biggest strengths. The ending is a downer, but it’s almost entirely justifiable through the film’s atmosphere and thematic resonance. Blow Out remains a remarkable early-eighties suspense movie that clearly owes much to the conspiracy thrillers of the seventies.

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