Review: “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3”

June 13, 2009 at 11:49 am Leave a comment

If you’re looking for comparisons between this and the Joseph Sargent 1974 film, the 1998 TV movie, or the novel they were all based on, look elsewhere.  I’m dealing strictly with the recent Tony Scott version.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 pits civil servant Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) against angry train hijacker Ryder (John Travolta).  Ryder and his crew, including an underused Luis Guzman, have taken control of a New York subway car and the passengers within, demanding a $10 million (and one cent) ransom in return.  Caught up in the hijacking is Garber, who works in the New York MTA’s subway control center, and who happens to be the unofficial negotiator between Ryder and the authorities.  Thrown into the mix for good measure is James Gandolfini as the Mayor of New York and John Turturro as Det. Camonetti, the NYPD’s hostage negotiator.  Probable not the most thrillingly original of ideas in this day and age, but it’s a Tony Scott flick; it’s all about the style.

The performances all around were good, but there aren’t any real surprises.  Washington does fine as everyman Walter Garber, and Travolta has a few ‘honest’ moments as Ryder.  Tony Scott is definitely more concerned about the look of the movie, generally allowing Washington and Travolta to do whatever they want.  Travolta definitely chews the scenery a little more, channeling a little bit of his Broken Arrow persona, just turned up a notch.  However, I couldn’t help but think of his role in the underrated Mad City, where he takes kids hostage in a museum (it’s the exact opposite of what he plays here, but there are a few similarities).  What surprised me the most about the movie, and this could be attributed to the script penned by Brian Helgeland more so than the actors, is the dynamic between Garber and Ryder.  There’s a connection they both share partly due to how Ryder feels they were both screwed over by the city of New York.  The two have only a few scenes together as they spend most of the movie conversing via radio, but Travolta and Washington seem to create a chemistry between them.  Helgeland’s script has some modern flourishes, like the use of a wireless laptop camera streaming a live feed from the subway, which is used by both the police and the media to gather information, but for the most part, the story feels a little dated in these hi-tech times.

The visual style is traditional Tony Scott: over-saturated colors, use of modern music mixed with an action score by Harry Gregson-Williams, and lots of crazy MTV-style edits and transitions.  The intro is nice to watch, as the editing and sound teams mix Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” to cuts of the movie.  Some may dismiss Scott’s flash over substance, but I think with a story like this, it needs some superficiality to it.  The story of a train hijacking to get money seems a little old-school in these days’ tales of corporate greed and elaborate terrorism plots, so throwing in some visual panache helps keep things from getting stale.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 won’t surprise anyone.  It’s another one of those summer action thrillers that seem to offer a break between the spectacles of the Terminators, the Star Treks, and the Transformers of the industry.  If nothing else, it’s a decent way to spend an afternoon.  The movie is loud, fast, and occasionally funny, as long as you don’t get offended by jokes made about New York (or Jersey).


(images from Yahoo!)


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