Review: Blow Out


Dir. De Palma
United States
107 Mins

Blow Out is one of those love letters to cinema that can only be pulled off by a cinematic talent like Brian De Palma. He is paying homage to a wealth of films that came before, but he does so in a wholly original way. He takes elements of Antonioni, Coppola, and Hitchcock and distills them in to a unique work that is entirely his own. It isn’t just the technical elements that make a De Palma film distinguishable from the films it is paying tribute to, but a frequency that resonates through his entire body of work. This frequency is driven by his infectious passion for thrillers and popcorn cinema. It permeates his work with visual homage, shared plot elements, and sound design that act as callbacks to firmly established thriller tropes while maintaining a unique and fresh vision.

John Travolta affably plays our protagonist Jack Terry who is driven by a chivalrous sense of righteousness to solve the mystery of a possible assassination attempt. Travolta brings a sense of incorruptible earnestness to the character and he is pushed to solve this mystery to repent for the mistakes of the past and because it is the right thing to do. He seems to forget that which most of us intrinsically know, searching for objective answers in the seedier side of American politics is a dangerous game and he had better be well prepared before he tries to play it. He isn’t driven by an antisocial perfectionism like Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul in Coppola’s , or by the ego and empty materialism of David Hemmings’ Thomas in Antonioni’s Blow-Up. He represents the charming naiveté of Americana and his innocent righteousness brings the audience along for the ride. We want to believe that the little guy can tackle that which is greater than ourselves, and that justice will eventually be served to those who deserve it. He is the archetypal “good guy” and it is easy for the audience to become emotionally invested in his search for justice and truth.

One of the other major characters in this film is the city of Philadelphia. The camera captures the streets, sights, sounds, and people of a specific point and time in Philadelphia and beautifully documents it all for posterity. Philly permeates every frame of the film and acts as a stand-in for all of America. The city is teeming with patriotism due to an impending Liberty Bell celebration, and the streets are filled with flag waving Americans. Splashes of red white and blue paint over the dirt and grit of city streets and we can clearly see that which was supposed to be right about America but cynicism and disillusionment has made us forget.

It is difficult to say if the film harbors an entirely cynical attitude to the concept of America, or if it believes that innocent righteousness still exists in the face of so much political corruption and ugliness in the human condition. It can simultaneously be both as in any of the most beautiful and idyllic places in the world one must merely turn over a single stone to find the seedy underbelly that lies beneath.

[notification type=”star”]89/100 Blow Out is one of those love letters to cinema that can only be pulled off by a cinematic talent like Brian De Palma. He is paying homage to a wealth of films that came before, but he does so in a wholly original way. [/notification]


About Author

Behind me you see the empty bookshelves that my obsession with film has caused. Film teaches me most of the important concepts of life, such as cynicism, beauty, ugliness, subversion of societal norms, and what it is to be a tortured member of humanity. My passion for the medium is an important part of who I am as I stumble through existence in a desperate and frantic search for objective truths.

  • Christopher Misch

    If I liked Blow-Up, will I like Blow Out?

  • Trevor Reznick

    What added to the greatness of BLOW OUT was the haunting score by De Palma’s longtime collaborator Pino Donaggio, Also the cinematography by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond.

  • Christopher Misch

    So you’re telling me, I should see this.

  • Trevor Reznick


  • Hari Keshan

    I have this movie…Impressed by the selection and superb review!

  • Christopher Misch

    Can I join you during that Blow Out screening? Still haven’t seen it!