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Blow Out (1981)
Sizzling direction by Brian De Palma is the centerpiece of a Hitchcock-influenced chiller from 1981 called Blow Out that still provides edge-of-your-seat suspense over thirty years after its original release.

John Travolta plays Jack, a movie sound effects engineer in Philadelphia who is out one night recording sounds for a movie and accidentally witnesses and records a car's tire blowing out and careening off a bridge. Jack jumps in the water and pulls a girl out of the car but the driver drowns. It turns out the driver of the car is the Governor of Philadelphia who is planning a run for the presidency. Jack learns that the girl (Nancy Allen) is a hooker named Sally and Jack is strong-armed into keeping quiet about it.

Jack takes his tape home and listens to it again and realizes that he hears a gun shot before the blow out, turning what he thought was an accident into a murder. He takes his equipment to the police who have already closed the case as an accident. He tells Sally what he has discovered and she just wants to forget about what happened and go on with her life. A TV journalist approaches Jack about his equipment and when Jack attempts to turn over the equipment to him, suddenly all his tapes and video of the accident have been erased and he and Sally's lives are now in danger.

Brian De Palma really triumphed here creating a compelling and riveting nail biter that doesn't play all of its cards too quickly. The initial scenes of Jack doing his work efficiently establish what Jack does for a living and that he's good at what he does and why we immediately believe him about the gun shot he heard. We even get a little backstory near the halfway point where we learn that Jack once did surveillance work for the police and how a mistake he might have made forced him to find a new line of work. I was also impressed by the fact that we learned Jack's instincts about what happened were on the money through the appearance of a deadly assassin (John Lithgow) even if we never learn exactly who he's working for. This movie proved that your last name doesn't have to be Kennedy in order for your life to be in danger just by running for President.

De Palma uses Philadelphia as a striking canvas upon which to tell this effective little thriller, painting one stark cinematic image after another...I love the shot of Jack in the woods recording the owl and the owl at the foreground of the shot looking straight at the camera or the hair raising drive Jack makes through the streets of downtown Philly, not to mention that fabulous shot of Sally screaming for Jack to help her as the parade festivities continued down below. And let's not forget Sally in Jack's arms with the fireworks exploding overhead.
Yes, it defies credibility that Jack was able to get to Sally as quickly as he did which involved, getting up and walking out of an ambulance with nobody stopping him among a lot of other traffic violations and property damage, but by this time we don't care, we just want Jack to save Sally.

Travolta is solid as Jack and Nancy Allen brings a freshness to the hooker with a heart of gold that is quite endearing. Lithgow is bone-chilling and I also loved future NYPD Blue star Dennis Franz as Sally's alleged accomplice who hangs her out to dry. It wasn't long after this film that Nancy Allen became Mrs. Brian De Palma and you can see De Palma's triumph in 1976 with Carrie was no fluke.