WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Thirty-five years after the pulse-pounding thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was made this sleek faster-paced remake not only improves on a good thing it showcases a much different New York than its pre-9/11 predecessor. Like the 1974 version the story revolves around the takeover of the lead car of a subway train by armed hoods headed by their crafty mastermind Ryder. They kill a cop take 18 people hostage and give authorities just one hour to deliver $10 million. (Inflation alert: In the first version it was a paltry million.) It’s up to train dispatcher Walter Garber to negotiate with Ryder in a cat-and-mouse game where innocent lives are used as bait. As the film progresses darker sides of both principals are revealed and become key parts of this ever-evolving time bomb of a movie.
WHO’S IN IT?
In a wildly different bit of casting The Taking of Pelham 123 stars Denzel Washington in the train dispatcher role played by Walter Matthau in the original giving it more gravity and making it less sardonic than Matthau’s lighter take. For much of the movie it’s really a phone connection that brings Washington together with his nemesis Ryder played to the evil explosive hilt by John Travolta. Travolta’s bad guys (think Face/Off Pulp Fiction) are always complex and intriguing and Ryder is no exception proving to be someone much different than we are originally led to believe. This is the actor’s best outing in some time and his “face-offs” with Washington give both stars grade-A acting opportunities. They deliver — and then some. Almost stealing the film is the original Tony Soprano himself James Gandolfini who plays a slippery NYC Mayor trying to keep the incident from spiraling out of control. Also worthy of praise is John Turturro who’s very fine as a professional hostage negotiator who finds the tools of his trade don’t work very well in this situation.
Departing from the original film which took its own sweet time and merged sly humor with suspense Pelham 123 director Tony Scott puts his signature stamp on this version even before the opening credits are done establishing a lightning fast pace and tense tone of high-stakes drama from the outset. Moments of comic relief are kept to a minimum. Despite the high-tech approach Scott keeps this Pelham from careening off the tracks by emphasizing Oscar winner Brian Helgeland’s (L.A. Confidential) smart repartee between the leads and old fashioned movie-making skills designed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The riveting storyline is credible and believable at all times.
Scott moves things along so quickly you wish there was time for more character development. This applies particularly to Ryder whose reasons for turning bad aren’t so obviously black-and-white and certainly fit the times.
The first direct confrontation between Washington and Travolta is pure gold as the two circle each other and try to spray their territory.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Both. See the new version in a theater and then go home and watch the DVD of the original. Or vice versa. Both are great examples of genre moviemaking at its best.
Misery loves the Savages--always has. Ever since they were kids Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman) have been plagued by the blasé blues. Even though they went their separate ways the siblings have remained somewhat close geographically--she lives in Manhattan he in Buffalo--and in their discontentment. But what made them this way in the first place their father (Philip Bosco) is about to reunite them. After losing his mind to dementia and his longtime girlfriend (Rosemary Murphy) to well death the old man officially needs to be looked after and that’s where Jon and Wendy reluctantly come in. Despite having not seen their estranged father in ages they fly out to his Arizona senior-citizen-friendly community immediately upon word of his downfall. What they didn’t plan on however is staying more than a couple days. Ultimately they take him back to Buffalo and place him in a nursing home about which Wendy constantly feels guilty. Now forced to live together and look in the metaphorical mirror the siblings Savage learn about self-discovery mortality each other and how to revive a decades-old rivalry as though it had never gone away. Given the way Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman constantly one-up each other in The Savages you’d think there was a real sibling rivalry at play. Of course it’s merely two of today’s very best actors giving par-for-the-course flawless performances. In so doing they create something beyond chemistry: a relationship so fractured and imperfectly perfect that it could only exist between an aging brother and sister. Whether the scene calls for fireworks or subtlety solo or together Linney and Hoffman are always up to the task. Linney is especially wide-ranging as Wendy still fights her midlife crisis. The veteran actress is often heartbreaking because Wendy is often heartbroken even when she tries to convince herself otherwise but Linney still manages to leave the window of hope cracked open--for us and her character. She truly encompasses everything in this her best performance to date. Hoffman is slightly more of a supporting player here but no less impactful. The Oscar winner is apathetic through much of the film but his terse outbursts of anger and/or sadness are stark reminders of his awe-inspiring range as an actor. Perhaps the most savage Savage is the patriarch played with grace by longtime actor Bosco. But instead of vilifying Lenny or making him worthy of all your pity Bosco makes him a rollercoaster of emotion as per Lenny's dementia. It’s been nine years since writer-director Tamara Jenkins’ last--and only other--feature-length film the twisted coming-of-age tale Slums of Beverly Hills which has given her plenty of time to think grow older and think about growing older. She philosophizes aloud in The Savages a movie that addresses everything you don’t want to but with a sardonic edge to it; in fact maybe this is as much a coping mechanism for her as it is an artistic endeavor. While the movie is primarily about the title siblings it essentially explores the human condition under their guise. But Jenkins does so in a way that is never preachy never obnoxious never sappy and always astutely observed. It’s her naturalistic approach to moviemaking that will turn what is ultimately a sharp dramedy into too much of a downer to please casual moviegoers looking for lighthearted fare in wintertime--this is NOT Little Miss Sunshine--but those who go in looking for a drama will be moved occasionally to laughter. Because The Savages is that rare deep movie: heavy on symbolism and meaning light on pretense and contrivance.