De Palma’s visual images in BLOW OUT invite comparison to many Alfred Hitchcock films, and indeed De Palma invited such comparisons when the posters for DRESSED TO KILL described him as “Master of the Macabre.” In BLOW OUT there are such Hitchcock hallmarks as a shower scene (played this time for laughs rather than for the chills of DRESSED TO KILL), several grisly murders in unexpected surroundings, violence in public places, and a chase through Philadelphia on the anniversary of the ringing of the Liberty Bell. This last extended chase sequence reminds us of two Hitchcock strategies: His juxtaposition of patriotic images and espionage, as in NORTH BY NORTHWEST and SABOTEUR, and his desperate chases through uncaring crowds, reminders of FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.
But BLOW OUT stands by itself. It reminds us of the violence of DRESSED TO KILL, the startling images of THE FURY, the clouded identities of SISTERS, the uncertainty of historical “facts” from OBSESSION, and it ends with the bleak nihilism of CARRIE. But it moves beyond those films, because this time De Palma is more successful than ever before at populating his plot with three-dimensional characters. We believe in the reality of the people played by John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, and Dennis Franz. They have all the little tics and eccentricities of life. And although they’re caught in the mesh of a labyrinthine conspiracy, they behave as people probably would behave in such circumstances—they’re not pawns of the plot.
Best of all, this movie is inhabited by a real cinematic intelligence. The audience isn’t condescended to. In sequences like the one in which Travolta reconstructs a film and sound record of the accident, we’re challenged and stimulated: We share the excitement of figuring out how things develop and unfold, when so often the movies only need us as passive witnesses.
USAs filmkritiker nummer én, Roger Ebert, elsker Brian De Palmas Blow Out.