The Disparate Ground Covered by John Lithgow’s Collaborations with Brian De Palma

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I made a lot of noise last week about the disparate halves of actor John Travolta’s choices in roles, noting that the two sides of his career can be conveniently summed up by his turns in the political thrillers Swordfish & Blow Out. Another actor from June’s Movie of the Month, 1981’s political thriller Blow Out, John Lithgow has made a similar career out of splitting his time between expertly nuanced roles like his turn in Kinsey & over-the-top villains in less respectable crowd favorites like Footloose, Cliffhanger, and Ricochet. The difference between Lithgow & Travolta is that Travolta’s acting can waver from high art to low trash depending on the film, but Lithgow is nothing if not consistent. No matter what film he’s starring in, Lithgow gives the production an incredible sense of levity, seemingly committing himself wholeheartedly in an equal, measured approach to the task at hand.

In his two collaborations with director Brian De Palma, Blow Out & Raising Cain, Lithgow was given plenty of space to display his unwavering enthusiasm for his craft. In Blow Out, Lithgow excels as a violent, sociopathic assassin that dominates the film’s central threat. In Raising Cain, De Palma asks Lithgow to run wild, playing several different characters each more eccentric than the last. A psychological thriller about a child psychologist gone completely off the rails, Raising Cain is far from the tight, controlled political thriller offered in Blow Out. Lithgow commits to both films equally, though, bringing the same cold intensity he used to elevate Blow Out to flesh out the sketchy at best Raising Cain, a ludicrous thriller that asks a whole lot of him, all of which he gives selflessly.

If you’re looking to see how a little, tastefully-applied Lithgow can go a long away, Blow Out is certainly the movie for you. If you want to see how that same element can be used for over-the-top, tawdry camp, Raising Cain is the better option. Due to Lithgow’s consistent acting style, his presence is more of a tool than a variable. In his two collaborations with Lithgow, De Palma has used the actor for very disparate effects that both exemplifies the types of roles Lithgow is typically used for & the range of quality & tone De Palma reaches for in his films. As a double feature, Raising Cain & Blow Out reveal a lot about the nature of the director & the actor both and raises questions about exactly why they haven’t worked together more often.

For more on June’s Movie of the Month, 1981’s Blow Out, visit our Swampchat , this look at Berberian Sound Studio’s sound-obsessed roots in the film, and last week’s comparison of the movie with John Travolta’s other political thriller, Swordfish.

-Brandon Ledet

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