Blow Out (1981)

by British Film Critic

I first got word of Blow Out when Quentin Tarantino named it as one of his top 3 films of all time, and so I thought that if one of my favourite filmmakers held this film to such high regard, it would be worth a watch – turns out, unsurprisingly, Tarantino has great taste. Blow Out is a genuinely great film and I can absolutely appreciate it being regarded as Brian De Palma’s masterpiece, despite not having seen any of his other films.

The film’s script is undeniably excellent – not only is the premise clever and thoroughly intriguing, but the writing also allows for a lot of political subtext, giving an extra layer of depth to the film. Additionally, the sequence of events and the sheer tightness to the script, tying multiple story elements and characters together in a very concise and intelligent way, keeps the movie compelling all the way through. In terms of pacing, the film nails it, balancing its shorter, more sombre scenes with its fast-paced, tense sequences, giving a real sense of nuance and keeping you thoroughly invested through to the shocking, gut-punch of a conclusion.

Brian De Palma’s direction is extremely evident, particularly in his visual style, utilising a range of shots and camera movement, including the iconic Split-Diopter which gives the film an individual touch whilst also lending itself to the visual intrigue of the film as a whole, made up of the liberal use of colour and expert lighting in Vilmos Zsigmond’s shots. John Travolta gives a brilliant performance as our title character with perhaps one of his best ever, opposite John Lithgow’s terrifying killer, who’s horror lies in his passiveness, nonchalance and sheer coldness, making for a genuinely scary and capable villain in the film.

Having not known what to expect from this film, I came out being more than pleasantly surprised – Blow Out is an extremely well made thriller, having one of Travolta’s best performances and delivering an ending which will left me shocked and challenged in a way that few film endings have ever done.