But the film shifts near the middle, just when it may have been in danger of becoming a zeitgeist-y (political assassination + Chappaquiddick-like circumstances ensured this) but rote whodunit. De Palma lays the cards out on the table, introduces a menacing John Lithgow and essentially solves the mystery. It’s then that the film kicks into a higher gear, propelled by Jack’s increasing paranoia and the dangers his obsession pose to him and Sally.
Travolta’s gentle, thoughtful Jack is a tragically doomed character, involving himself not because of personal bravado, but of a deep-seated desire to do something meaningful — confirmed by a flashback that reveals an earlier job with law enforcement. He’s brilliant in his own way, but he also may be overreaching in a way that has drastic consequences.
De Palma’s stylistic flourishes have probably never been more assured than here. His camera weaves and bobs with intelligent grace. He’s not content to opt for purely utilitarian camerawork, and the style is married to the content, like in a scene where Jack discovers his tapes have been tampered with, and the revolving camera matches his spiraling paranoia.
When the utterly unnerving final scene turns the satiric misdirection of the film’s opening on its head, it becomes totally clear that De Palma crafted a dark, engrossing masterpiece where concerns of image and sound can be matters of life and death.
The Blu-ray Disc
Blow Out is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Supervised by De Palma, this new transfer is a marvelous recreation of the 35mm experience with healthy, but not obtrusive grain levels and absolutely superb image clarity. Much of the film is dark and subdued, but the film does see some vibrant colors, such as reds and blues, that pop off the screen. Fine detail is apparent in every frame, with both the infrequent close-ups and more frequent medium and long shots packed with information. Black levels are outstanding and even in darker shots, grain doesn’t come across as noise. Damage is essentially nonexistent.
Audio is presented in a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that dynamically communicates the film’s intricate soundscapes. Obviously a film about a sound designer will feature interesting sound design, and Blow Out does. Even with just a 2.0 track, the effects feature great directionality, and dialogue and music is always clear and distinct.
Criterion has assembled an excellent set of supplements, with new interviews bearing the majority of the weight. An hour-long conversation between De Palma and Noah Baumbach serves well in lieu of a commentary track, with De Palma talking about a lot of interesting technical and anecdotal information. I was especially excited to hear him talk about his split diopter technique, which he uses in this film often, and is one of his most striking stylistic choices, in my mind. As he did on Criterion’s My Dinner with Andre disc, Baumbach serves as a genial and perceptive interviewer, even if he sometimes struggles a little with framing some questions (hey, it happens).