The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
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Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is a New York City subway dispatcher whose ordinary day is thrown into chaos by an audacious crime: the hijacking of a subway train. Ryder (John Travolta), the criminal mastermind behind the hijacking and leader of a highly-armed gang of four, threatens to execute the train's passengers unless a large ransom is paid within one hour. As the tension mounts beneath his feet, Garber employs his vast knowledge of the subway system in a battle to outwit Ryder and save the hostages. But there's one riddle Garber can't solve: even if the thieves get the money, how can they possibly escape?
John Godey's 1973 novel The Taking of Pelham One Two Three boasts a suspense situation so surefire that even the directorial bad habits of Tony Scott can't ruin this latest movie version. Four armed men seize a New York City subway train, isolate one car, and threaten to start killing passengers if a ransom isn't paid within the hour. The ransom was a million dollars in the book and also in Joseph Sargent's solid 1974 movie, in which Robert Shaw played the mercenary leading the hostage takers and Walter Matthau was the growling transit cop trying to outsmart him. In 2009, the title has gone digital--The Taking of Pelham 123--and inflation has jumped the asking price to $10 million. Where Shaw's menace was steely, John Travolta opts for manic, and shamelessly has a blast in the master villain role. His adversary, cagily underplayed by Denzel Washington, has been upgraded in civil-service rank but also demoted on suspicion of taking a bribe. This colors the dynamics of the dialogue between Washington at his control-center console and Travolta on the motorman's microphone aboard the stalled train.
So far, so reasonably good. But the director's trademark tactics keep getting between, well, everything. From the get-go, the visuals are subjected to pointless and irritating stutter effects, speeding-up/slowing-down, gratuitous camera movement, and the interposition of dirt- or light-smeared panes of glass between the camera and people we'd appreciate a clear look at. The 1974 movie settled for one police car being wrecked as the ransom is rushed uptown; Scott requires multiple collisions, each the occasion for police cruisers taking Lethal Weapon-style flight. The hostages in the earlier film were wittily individuated, a multicultural group portrait of the city at that mid-'70s moment; the ones on Scott's train--and also Travolta's fellow perpetrators, including that wonderful character actor Luis Guzmán--barely register. On the upside, John Turturro and James Gandolfini shine as two guys who (like the actors themselves) are very good at their jobs—respectively playing a hostage negotiator and His Honor, the mayor. The screenplay by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) strives intelligently, if formulaically, to add new dimensions to the main characters and to offer its own gloss on the current economic meltdown. --Richard T. Jameson
Stills from The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Click for larger image)
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Commentary with Writer Brian Helgeland and Producer Todd Black
No Time to Lose: The Making of Pelham 123
The Third Rail: New York Underground
From the Top Down: Stylizing Character
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Unfortunately, it was filled with disappointment. Not a horrible movie by any means, but if you watch the trailer you'll think of it as a fast-paced action movie with some bits of comedy and thriller mixed in. The action movie, however, is rarely like this - almost every bit of action in the movie is shown in the trailer. The rest are negotiation/discussions between Travolta and Denzel. While both did fine, you never really cared about any of the cast - the good guys, the bad guys or the other guys. The characters were somewhat boring (Travolta seems to be going in the direction of the character he played in From Paris With Love (a great character!) but he just never gets there. Another big disappointment was Luis Guzman - normally hilarious, he has a very small (and non-comedic) role in this one - Seems like a waste!
Being a Tony Scott film it has all sorts of fast-cuts and weird edits/effects. Normally I love these (like in Domino), but this one just uses the SAME effect over and over (whenever theres a helicopter or subway driving by, it cuts to a "stop motion" type effect (slow shutter speed)). Really annoying, really overdone.
The Blu-Ray itself is pretty good though - about an hour worth of documentary/behind the scenes footage (interesting to see how much the NYC MTA helped with the film and gave them access), some of it a bit odder than others (a 6 minute video on the hair stylist?) - it also has 2 commentary tracks. Video is very good (about 4.5 - 5 out of 5 - great especially since this film is mostly filmed in dark tunnels), audio is very good as well. Movie gets about a 3/5, audio/video about a 5/5, extras a 4/5, overall about a 4/5.
If you were hooked by the trailer, just know the movie isn't quite like that. After watching the movie (and being a bit disappointed), I watched the trailer and thought "Wow, That looks like a real good movie!"