RYAN KOHN'S BINGE BLOG RECOMMENDATION: "YOU REALLY NEED TO WATCH BLOW OUT"
In this week's Binge Blog, Ryan Kohn writes about how he discovered Blow Out, which he notes is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video:
In theory, I understand why people don't talk about "Blow Out" when discussing Brian De Palma films.
It wasn't a huge hit, only pulling in $12 million at the box office despite starring a young John Travolta, who was coming off a hit with "Urban Cowboy." That was nothing compared to other De Palma films like "Scarface" ($66 million) "Carrie" ($34 million) and the mega-smash that was "Mission: Impossible" ($457 million).
I had never heard of the film until going on a Letterboxd deep dive a few weeks ago. Once I read the description (and some glowing reviews from critics I trust), I knew I had to see it, and guess what: I was right. "Blow Out" rules.
It's a conspiracy movie on the surface. Travolta plays Jack Terry, a sound engineer working on B-grade horror flicks in Philadelphia. One night while Terry is out gathering ambient sound in a park, his equipment picks up the audio of a car's tire exploding. He then sees the car driving off the road and into a river. He dives into the river and is able to drag a young woman out of the car but not the man sitting with her. That man turns out to be a presidential hopeful, and the woman with him was not his wife.
The candidate's assistant tries to convince Terry not to say anything about the accident; his family is going through enough, no reason to tell them he was having an affair, right? Well, Terry can't quite drop it. Something about the audio of the accident didn't sit right with him. He checks his tapes. Sure enough, he hears two explosions, not one. This leads him to one conclusion: The tire didn't blow out; it was shot. Someone wanted that car to crash.
The rest of the movie follows Terry's journey into the depths of this conspiracy as he tries to convince people in power of his theory, going as far as creating his own movie of the events, syncing the audio he captured with stills a photographer (Dennis Franz) took of the accident. At the same time, he's watching the back of Sally (Nancy Allen), the woman he saved from the water, who might know more about the case than she lets on.
The film feels timely with all the misinformation floating around the internet these days, much of it spread by people in power. It also is a showcase for the power of filmmaking and the freedom that comes with producing art that calls out those people in power. Sometimes, that's the only way you can get people to listen.
"Blow Out" also gets points for the following, which is all subjective, I admit:
- Characters say the name of the movie like 25 times, which is the sign of a great movie (to me).
- De Palma's camera work is out-of-this-world good. The decision to use a scene from one of the movies Terry is editing as a cold open — a killer is stalking college girls from outside their windows — and then proceeding to constantly use shots looking through windows during the rest of the film is brilliant. And there's a shot involving fireworks toward the end of the movie is nothing short of sublime. You'll know it when you see it. My jaw dropped.
- Speaking of the ending, the last 15 minutes of this thing take it from good to outstanding. I don't know exactly what I expected, but it certainly wasn't what De Palma delivers. Haunting and emotionally fulfilling in equal measure while taking the movie full circle. The final scene is an all-timer.
- John Lithgow is the third lead in this movie. He plays a man so loathsome he might as well be a slug. It's great.
- Travolta rules in this movie! Not in an "I'm a movie star, look at me look cool!" way, either. He rules in an "I'm a compelling force, and I will make you feel what I'm feeling" way.
You really need to watch "Blow Out."