By Sean Boelman
After Michael Haneke’s 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance entered the Criterion Collection last year, it seems the boutique label will make a habit of releasing bleak and bizarre Christmas movies. Allen Baron’s hitman drama Blast of Silence may not be what one would usually think of as a festive watch, but it may join many cinephiles’ holiday watchlist.
The film follows a hired gun whose hit does not go according to plan. For those who enjoyed David Fincher’s The Killer earlier this year, Blast of Silence is a must-see, feeling like a sort of spiritual predecessor to the auteur’s thriller. It’s a deconstruction of the hitman genre, taken to its smallest minutiae.
Because the film is so hyper-focused on the small details, some viewers could definitely read it as overly slow. However, Baron’s adroit direction does a fantastic job of building suspense at the right moments. Even if the arc’s eventual end is obvious, the path to it contains so many unexpected twists and turns that viewers will be on the edge of their seats.
A big part of what makes Blast of Silence so interesting is its character development. Although films set in the criminal underworld always have an element of moral ambiguity, there’s little ambiguity in Baron and (an uncredited) Waldo Salt’s script. The protagonist is pretty deplorable — and does some awful things throughout — yet his story is strangely alluring nonetheless.
Baron also stars in the film as the hitman, and his performance is excellent. However, the real standout of the cast is Lionel Stander, who performs the droning narration. Interestingly, Stander was not credited for his voice performance, making his subtle turn all the more impressive. What is missing from the film are some interesting individuals for the protagonist to encounter on his path.
With its 4K restoration, the black-and-white cinematography of Blast of Silence looks absolutely fantastic. It’s the type of film where its strength is its independent sensibility. The story of the film’s production is arguably even more interesting than the film itself, with it being shot on location without permits and with a budget of only $200,000.
The bonus features of this disc don’t offer anything particularly new, with none of them being new for this release. However, they managed to assemble enough cool pre-existing materials for this to be worth upgrading or adding to your shelf. Perhaps the coolest perk of this edition is a graphic novel adaptation of the film by Sean Philips.
Blast of Silence is an interesting film and an important work of independent cinema. For those looking for an atypical Christmas film to watch this holiday season or gift to their favorite cinephile, the Criterion Collection has you covered once again.
The Criterion Collection edition of Blast of Silence is now available.
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