Sounds Like a Hit

I’m a fan of movie scores, but sometimes they get in the way of the movies they’re supposed to enhance. This is particularly true in thrillers or horror movies. Although the best scores have come from that genre (Psycho and Jaws, for example), in my opinion, few can “outsound” the effectiveness of silence. I love movies that become quiet and make you listen. “Blow Out” is a prime among this hush breed.

The hero is a sound technician named Jack Terri (John Travolta); he records sounds (haunting screams, blowing winds, hooting owls) for B-movie flicks. One night, while recording sounds of nature in park, he gets sidetracked by a sidetracked car, which veers offs a bridge and plunges into a nearby river. Jack swims in and saves a female passenger (Nancy Allen) inside. He takes her to the authorities, gives a full report, and later learns that the drowned male driver is a beloved presidential candidate. Curiously, Jack rewinds his recording device and plays the audio of the accident. He shockingly hears a sound so unsound; it could only be a mystery playing before his very ears.

Now, this, ladies and gents, is a thriller machine that careens and swerves on a road, so perilously built by director Brian De Palma. Jack’s accidental sound recording, eerily recalling the footage of the JFK shooting, is quite a creative way to start the trouble. Even if Jack knows it to be authentic, he can’t exactly prove it wasn’t doctored. So he’s left to his own devices to satisfy his cat-like curiosity, unaware he’s chasing one dogged villain (John Lithgow). De Palma’s bold direction is on full speed here; he keeps the plot riveting, assembling solid set-ups and payoffs along the way. It’s a thriller made by a humongous thriller fan, evoking Hitchcock and classic film noirs such as “Touch of Evil,” though hardly a knockoff since De Palma has his signature style all over it. I think the ending is — quite shocking, audaciously shocking. You can’t help but be sidetracked too. The finish line is off the road.

Grade: A