BLOW OUT (Brian De Palma, 1981)

Brian De Palma’s hommage to Michelangelo Antonioni’s cool, elegant, captivating Blowup (1966) translates image into sound. Rather than a photographer, a B-movie soundman is the protagonist this time; rather than photographs revealing a hidden murder, sound does this in Blow Out. The passage where, at night, Jack Terry silently records natural sounds, of an owl, for instance, is spellbinding and beautifully photographed. Then suddenly there’s the sound of a blowout; a car falls from a bridge into the river below, and De Palma, constitutionally unable to leave out Alfred Hitchcock, veers into Vertigo (1958) by having Terry dive into the water and rescue Sally. The driver, a presidential candidate, has drowned; is that a gunshot Terry hears when he amplifies and analyzes the sound? Sally, it turns out, is more than she seems; a conspiracy is afoot, Terry becomes embroiled in it, he falls in love with Sally, whose endangered life at the last he tries desperately to save. Too late! Terry’s idealism, which cannot cope with the realities of a sordid world, finds his original rescue of Sally, and his heart’s springing to life, all for nought.
     John Travolta, inept as usual, is unable to balance Terry’s cynicism and naïveté; but, if anything, Nancy Allen’s clichéd floozie is worse. Make of this what you will: De Palma applies “suspenseful” slow motion to Sally’s murder. Allen was De Palma’s wife. Their marriage lasted another year or so.
     Inorganic happy endings are impossibly sentimental; the same is true for inorganic unhappy endings. Sally’s end comes in a ludicrous burst of cheesy, swooning melodramatic opulence.
     There’s a creepy performance by creepy John Lithgow, and De Palma once again irritates with a sense of a shadowing danger imperiling lives. Overproduced, manipulative, empty, this is a terrible film.

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