Blow Out: De Palma, Down to Earth in Conspiracyland

Blow Out (Criterion)

Is it too sweeping to call Jack Terry, the B-movie soundman of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, John Travolta’s best performance ever? So be it. Who knew that De Palma—a director still more often than not dismissed as a technician with a Hitchcock obsession, a facility for bravura camerawork and a penchant for split screens—would be the director to best showcase Travolta’s talents? Or that Travolta would help bring out the best in De Palma? Fresh off the success of his psycho-sexual dream cinema of Dressed to Kill, Blow Out takes us out of the sleek, stylish, rarified worlds of the affluent and drops us into the working class and street culture of urban Philadelphia, where the flag-waving bash surrounding the Liberty Bell Bicentennial comes off like a small town civic celebration blown up by a big city budget.

John Travolta as soundman Jack Terry with the tool of his trade

Blow Out arrived in 1981 as the end of the seventies run of political conspiracy thrillers like an aftershock. Critics were quick to jump on the connections to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (it’s not like the title or the premise made it hard to come to that conclusion) and the echoes of Chappaquiddick, Watergate and various political assassinations of recent history. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation was brought up far less frequently, though it’s easily as important a wellspring for De Palma’s transformative work, and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, perhaps not so much an inspiration as a fellow traveler in the underside of conspiracy cinema, not at all.

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New review: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (dir: Tony Scott)

The original 1974 The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a kind of blue collar cult film, a smartly done crime thriller about smart crooks, a smart transit cop and a battle of wits over the hijacking of a subway car and the ransoming of the passenger. A terrific concept, great plotting and shoes-on-the-street police work.


Tony Scott, the director behind some of the emptiest action flash and confoundingly vacant thrillers of the past few decades, takes the helm of this remake and defies expectations. Directing from a solidly plotted script by Brian Helgeland, who isn’t slavish to the original film (the film credits John Godey’s novel but not the 1976 screenplay adaptation), he delivers a focused and refreshingly straightforward thriller that forgoes the usual high tech confusion and contrived high-concept twists so often laid in to surprise audiences.

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