Stephen Hopkins – “Blown Away” (1994)

In 1994, three weeks after Speed and a year before Die Hard 3 aka A day in hell, Blown Away (“blown away, blown away” if we try to translate it into French) by Stephen Hopkins landed on cinema screens. Obvious critical disavowal, unfavorable comparisons and failure in cinemas, the film could not hold its commercial pretensions (the budget rises to 50 million dollars) and its position of announced event of the summer box office. Almost thirty years later, The Image Workshop releases this unloved nineties action entertainment on Blu-Ray and DVD, inviting us to reconsider its status. A director of Jamaican origin who spent his youth between Australia and the United Kingdom, Hopkins began by signing several clips and commercials which earned him prizes in festivals and a certain recognition. Whether Dangerous Gamea thriller filmed in Australia, was a first attempt, he enjoyed success two years later across the Atlantic where he settled down permanently, working on the filming of the fifth freddie, The Nightmare Child in 1989. His disappointing results compared to the scores of the previous opuses, but factually solid, ideally launch his career. He made a stint on television for the time to film three episodes of Tales from the Crypt before being entrusted with the production of Predator 2, with the heavy task of passing behind John McTiernan. The result, a bit underestimated, is more than honorable. A burnt out and efficiently packaged B series, which manages rather well to emancipate itself from its imposing model. The filmmaker then sought to break away from the image of sequel maker, confined to franchises and returned to thrillers in 1993 for Judgment Night with Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr, Denis Leary and Stephen Dorff in the lead roles. Blown Away marks his debut in action, he recovers a screenplay from the tandem of John Rice and Joe Batteer (The infernal escort by Dennis Hopper, later Windtalkers by John Woo), taken from a story which was also worked on by a surprise guest, Jay Roach, to whom we will later Austin Powers and My stepfather and me. The director reunites with his loyal cinematographer Peter Levy (in the photo of all his films with the exception of The Shadow and the Prey) and orchestrates a confrontation between Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones. The first spell ofSecond state by Peter Weir while the second walks on water, The fugitive by Andrew Davis was a hit and won him the Oscar last year. Shaken by a series of unprecedented attacks, the city of Boston recalls deminer Jimmy Dove (Jeff Bridges) to the field, about to leave his post. The first elements reveal that the terrorist he has to face is more skilled and vicious than all those he has had to face. This formidable adversary, Ryan Gaerity (Tommy Lee Jones) is no stranger and comes from a past that Jimmy would rather forget. Their confrontation is now inevitable…

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The introduction in two stages, enthrones the bad guy before the hero, through a pleasurable and already explosive prison escape sequence, leaving no ambiguity about his nature as a psychopath. Change in tone and mood when witnessing the appearance of Jimmy Dove, placed under the angle of relaxation and coolness, two characteristics that Jeff Bridges has embodied many times during his career from duck at The Big Lebowski. A seemingly infallible star deminer, he inspires confidence, naturally and instantly justifies being allowed to transgress the rules of conduct, like when he lights a cigarette at the scene of a risky rescue, which will end in an act heroic. The astonishingly patient set-up (the plot does not fully begin until after about thirty minutes), underlines a desire to make its characters exist and thicken the stakes, with a view to then switching to the crescendo of expected action. A fun stalking game, with a high pyrotechnic content between a game and its prey on the scale of a large city, the promise is exciting, the execution is however only partially held. The fault of a marked and too greedy script, which on the one hand does not skimp on improbabilities (the way Ryan Gaerity seems to teleport from one place to another without the slightest explanation) and narrative facilities (the past hidden from Jimmy who tends to fall like a hair on the soup). On the other hand, the political background, potential zone of originality of this scenario, turns out to be only a banal pretext supposed to thicken the psychology which remains summary and exploits a still burning conflict for mercantile ends. Moreover, the black and white flashbacks, aimed at initiating the trauma of the protagonist beforehand, are not happier. Agreed and partially coarse, they tend to keep the viewer at a distance, when the first minutes managed to create a bond, facilitated by the phlegm of Jeff Bridges. The naturalness of the latter is opposed by an ultra-cabotine composition by Tommy Lee Jones, closer to his performance in Trap on the high seas than that of Fugitive (both directed by Andrew Davis). In his own way, the actor maintains doubt as to the degree by which to approach this Blown Away, certainly imperfect, wobbly and even corny in aspects. Still, to focus only on its limits and faults would amount to omitting its sources of satisfaction and the candid pleasure that its viewing provides. Stemming from a film formula that has now disappeared or become obsolete, it provides entertainment with an honesty that is not meant to be questioned and an appreciable efficiency, to which is added an ounce of nostalgia.

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If he was never a great filmmaker, Stephen Hopkins was able, depending on the project, to demonstrate more than once a certain know-how when it comes to generating tension, keeping the spectator in suspense or orchestrating exciting highlights. This fifth achievement reinforces this reputation as a capable maker, whose relevance of the copies varies according to the quality of its starting materials. Here, despite the shortcomings mentioned above, the script, predisposed to repetitions, proves to be inventive in terms of its action sequences and climaxes. Evidenced by the variety of traps and especially mine clearance operations, scattered at regular intervals of the story, increasingly long, tense and spectacular as the plot progresses. The director does not fail to deliver inspired visions like this explosion unveiled in the reflection of a window then observed in the distance then through the pupil of his hero, or the “mental” reconstruction of an attack, where past and present respond brutally. He affirms (not without subtlety) a desire for stimulating filmic generosity, which is manifested by research into sophisticated framing and movements, strong and paradoxically formidable sound additions, use to reinforce Alan Silvestri’s good score and stylistic processes not always in the best taste, but certainly effective (the emphatic slow motions). Despite similar beginnings, Hopkins belongs to a pre-Michael Bay generation, concerned with giving cachet and a semblance of scope to his images, without turning his back on the basic rules of cutting. In this sense, no concern for readability, spatialization of the action or even storytelling, it follows in the footsteps of its elders, standing out in fits and starts and without making waves. His mastery of scenes in alternate editing serves as the culmination of his craftsmanship, intermingling relative sobriety and pleasing nags access, it does not take more for the contract to be fulfilled. The film can also be based on a few tasty replicas embellishing the set with small touches of irony as well as the meeting on screen of the father and son Bridges, causing some beautiful passages in a more moving register. Among the little surprises in store for the screenplay, the place of the music calls out: Jimmy plays the guitar, his wife is a violinist, his daughter has a mini-piano for her birthday and Ryan discovers U2 (“I lived on the fringes for a while,” he said, buying the tape of The Joshua Tree). Blown Away and its uninhibited, improbable and joyful confrontation, failing to revolutionize the genre, does not demerit.

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The edition is accompanied by two supplements in the company of Philippe Guedj, an enthusiastic presentation of the film (without undermining its limits) and a sequence analysis. The journalist evokes the many comparisons which played against Blown Away upon his release as well as his posterity. He brings the villain camped by Tommy Lee Jones closer to the one previously played by Sean Bean in War games, famous negative figure of the early 90 claiming to work on behalf of the IRA. He comes back to the choice of going to film in Boston, apprehended by Hopkins as a character in his own right, having needed to hire four thousand extras and caused some turmoil during the shooting. We also learn that the finale contains the biggest explosion in the history of cinema! A period making-of and the trailer complete the content of the disc.

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Stephen Hopkins – “Blown Away” (1994)