Brian De Palma's homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's classic art movie Blow-Up (1966) blends suspense and political paranoia when a Philadelphia soundman inadvertently records a murder. Former police technician Jack Terri (John… More Brian De Palma's homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's classic art movie Blow-Up (1966) blends suspense and political paranoia when a Philadelphia soundman inadvertently records a murder. Former police technician Jack Terri (John Travolta) makes his living doing sound for slasher flicks. While recording new outdoor effects one night, Jack witnesses a couple's car careen off a bridge into a river, but he can save only the female occupant, Sally (Nancy Allen). Jack begins to suspect something when he learns that her dead companion was a Presidential hopeful. Re-playing his tape over and over, Jack thinks that he hears a gun shot before the crash-causing tire blow-out. When sleazy photographer Manny Karp (Dennis Franz) comes forward with photos of the accident, Jack discovers the real reason that the naïve Sally was in the car -- and also a way to prove his auditory suspicions through motion pictures. Even with all his surveillance talent, however, Jack cannot see (or hear) how dangerous the big picture really is until it's too late. Taking a break from horror films, De Palma turned his interests in technology and voyeurism toward more politically loaded subject matter at the dawn of the Reagan era; the film's red, white and blue mise-en-scène, "Liberty Day" celebration climax, and conspiracy surrounding political "dirty tricks" suggest that American politics are still rotten, seven years after Watergate. Although Blow Out earned some favorable notice, particularly for Travolta's first "adult" performance, De Palma's downbeat film did not go over well with 1981 summer audiences. Rather than blockbuster escapism, Blow Out instead harks back to 1970s political thrillers like The Parallax View (1974), using cinematic fireworks to tell an unsettling story about one man's struggle against unstoppable corruption. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi
Consensus: With a story inspired by Antonioni's Blow Up and a style informed by the high-gloss suspense of Hitchcock, DePalma's Blow Out is raw, politically informed, and littered with film references.