Nobody can build a thrilling scene like Brian De Palma. He creates an incredible mix of photography, music and editing, that builds unbelievable tension. At the beginning of his career, critics claimed he didn't do much more than rip-off Hitchcock. (If you're going to steal from someone, you might as well steal from the best.) If you take Hitchcock's perfect sense of terror, add in a dash of over-the-top violence and sex, you get a good De Palma film. He was at the top of his game in the late 70's, early 80's, creating such classics as Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Scarface. In the middle of these films, he directed Blow Out, a film that never received the sort of attention these others did. After seeing it for the first time, I understand why.
Helping him along the way is the girl, a prostitute, played by De Palma go-to girl, Nancy Allen. She feels guilty for the senator's death, she thought it was a simple blackmail job, her partner, played as greasily as possibly by Dennis Franz, was to take photos of them together in compromising positions, nothing more. Unknown to them, a killer is chasing her; a professional hit-man, John Lithgow with a maniacal glint. He takes a bit too much pleasure in killing, more a serial killer than a pro, is on their tracks to wipe out any evidence linking her to the truth about the murder. The best scene in the film is when it all comes to a head during a 4th of July celebration in downtown Philadelphia. It's a classically built bit of De Palma suspense.
A very young John Travolta, plays a sound engineer for a low-budget horror producer. He's out one night recording ambient sound effects, when he witnesses a car crash over a bridge. He jumps into the river, saving a girl from the back of the limo. Dying in the accident, was a senator, who had ambitions to become president. Soon Travolta is contacted by the secret service, and told to keep the girl's involvement under wraps. He begins to dig into what really happened. Through his sound recordings and photos taken of the accident he begins to unravel a much larger conspiracy.
The rest of the film doesn't live up to the ending, and Blow Out is certainly one of the lesser De Palma films, especially when he was at the height of his skills. It's not a total waste, it has a couple of well built scenes, I can think of no other film-maker that will show you the same scene multiple times, from a few different angles, so on each viewing you learn something more about what really happened. It's a fascinating skill, but there are better uses of it, in better films. - Grade: C
Instead of Blow Out, and many of his classic films, I'll recommend another of his lesser films, at least by other's standards, for a lesson in how he puts his unique vision to work: Body Double. It's a better made film, keeping you intrigued throughout the film, full of sex, violence and the suspense he's known for.