Review

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 Review

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Jun 11, 2009 | 10:40am EDT

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.

WHAT’S GOOD?

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.

WHAT’S BAD?

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.

FAVORITE SCENE?

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.

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