Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981)

Similar to my reaction to Dressed to Kill, I found Blow Out to be the sort of film the relishes in its B-movie sensibilities and grit, while being a richly competent directorial effort. The way this film is put together is incredibly smart. Tension wrests in the most mundane situations, such as when Jack Terry (John Travolta) attempts to piece together the sound of an accident with images he clipped out of a magazine. Terry merely sits, flipping switches and rewinding tape, until both he and the audience connect the pieces together. It’s an exceptionally rewarding experience; one that is oddly meshed with a seedy underworld that I gather is a De Palma trademark.

It doesn’t quite trump the glee I had while watching Dressed to Kill, but Blow Out edges that film out in its sharp character development. Travolta in particular, reminded me of Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac – the sort of obsessive, sleep-ridden character who seeks personal justice as a means of proving something to themselves. Though with Travolta’s character, his very occupation is used as a backdrop to establish that he has a score to settle – lives to save, people to avenge. In that way, it really does come across as one of his best roles. Nancy Allen is adequate as Sally – the perpetual damsel in distress. The screenplay gives her quite a bit to work with, but honestly, I found her acting to be a bit too over-the-top and derivative.

Nevertheless, De Palma’s stock with me continues to rise. He brings a unique flair for aesthetics and characters, while presenting his world of grime and decay with unusual and effective framing methods. He’s obviously influenced by Coppola and Hitchcock, but the way in which he manipulates their sensibilities with his own is a delightfully lurid marriage.