Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blow Out review

If you turn on the History Channel on an average day, chances are you'll come across some phony conspiracy theory show detailing how JFK was killed by the mafia or how George Washington was in a secret cult or some unbelievable nonsense like that. Now imagine you knew JFK actually was killed by the mafia. And imagine you had the evidence to prove it. Imagine yourself being called a crackpot conspiracy theorist by everyone around you , even though you're right. Scary, right? These are the circumstances John Travolta's character finds himself in in Brian De Palma's excellent 1981 thriller, Blow Out. John Travolta plays a sound man for exploitation slasher flicks. One night, while out recording sound for a movie, he accidentally records a car careening into a creek. Travolta dives into the creek yet, he's only able to save the girl, the man is already dead. The man in the car was a prominent presidential candidate. One that had the potential to be the next president of the United States. Was this merely an accident, or was there a second party involved? Paranoia, fear, and conspiracy shroud the rest of the film. And it's absolutely awesome. I feel Brian De Palma doesn't get the respect he deserves. The man has made some awesome movies (Scarface and Carrie to name some), but even so he's often demoted to nothing but a Hitchcock ripoff artist or genre director. "His films are all style over substance!" is one cry I've heard surrounding the work of De Palma many times. These detractors obviously haven't seen Blow Out. Here, Mr. De Palma marries his cinematic flourishes and Hitchcockian style with a taut plot line and in depth character study. The character study would of course be worthless if not for the excellent performance by a young John Travolta. This may be one of Travolta's best performances yet. Right up there with his work in Pulp Fiction. He's cool, intense, and assured. It would be very easy for this film to devolve into a simple and dumb thriller. De Palma could have easily given into cliches and used car chases and things like that as a plot device. But he's better than that, and does no such thing. With talent all his own, Brian De Palma keep us literally at the edge of our seat. He doesn't need plot contrivances to do this. While watching this, I felt inside the film. I was so caught up in the movie, it was as if it had opened up and swallowed me whole. One major problem with mainstream action and thriller films is that they too often rely on is the nice and tidy ending. An ending where everything turns out peachy and fine. Everyone's alive, the killer has been caught, and justice is served. Now the square-jawed main character can scoop up the leading lady and ride off with her into the sunset. Blow Out falls into no such trappings. The ending (I won't spoil it for you) is dark, frightening, and purely awesome. De Palma is first and foremost a director, but this film proves he can write a film just fine. Blow Out has some of the most ingenious plotting I've seen in a movie ever. Some great films are products of their time. Blow Out is a combination of political scandals like Watergate and the JFK assassination. What makes it great is how it transcends its time period and influences. The film is wholly original. It's quite possible this could be Brian De Palma's best movie, and maybe his only perfect one. I'm wary to make such claims just yet, having only seen this once, but it may be the case. I wasn't too sure what to make of the film after I watched it. After digesting it some, I have decided it's a masterpiece. Possibly better than Scarface, but I haven't decided that yet. Blow Out seems to have been overshadowed by some of De Palma's much flashier work over the years. I suppose Blow Out is a much more subdued movie in a sense. It shouldn't be. Every frame of this film is impeccable. De Palma can frame his shots like few other directors I know. Quentin Tarantino lists this as one of his favorite films. I can certainly see why. It's a full bodied and expertly crafted picture. Blow Out is like a delicious three course meal. It's very enjoyable, but it has real solid value as well. It's possible Blow Out's bleak ending has something to do with it's lack of popularity. A real shame, for this is a cinematic gem and one of the best films of the 1980's. I beseech you to see this, surely you won't regret it. It's a masterwork of tension, acting, and plotting. This is a crime film for the ages. Happy Viewing.
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