The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Rated R; Directed by Tony Scott; Starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, James Gandolfini
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is one of those thrillers that offers a good cast, a decent script, and capable direction. The plot doesn’t always work, especially in the last act of the film, but the dialogue and character-building is entertaining.
This updated remake of a 1974 film uses some clever changes for today’s terrorism-aware audiences. It also drops some of the humor that Walter Matthau – the star in the original movie – brought to the story. This time the New York City transit dispatcher who must communicate with hostage takers is played by the always interesting Denzel Washington. Looking more stolidly middle aged, Washington plays Walter Garber with an everyman quality. His issues with his boss (Michael Rispoli) and camaraderie with colleagues sets him up to be the hero in this film who, but one who has his own set of problems. Yet his biggest problem begins when four men hijack one of the subway cars Garber gets their call over the subway radio.
Ryder (John Travolta) leads the gang of hijackers. Demanding 10 million dollars from the city, Ryder will not hesitate to kill the hostages if his demands are not met. John Turturro as an expert hostage negotiator and James Gandolfini as the unhappy mayor also top the list of skillful actors in the film.
The film starts smoothly and builds to taut scenes as Ryder plays with Garber over the radio. Travolta starts out a little over the top, but as the film builds, these acting choices work to build an interesting villain. As the star, Washington also makes Garber a sympathetic and flawed character. The cast is good, but if there’s any downfall to the film, it’s director Tony Scott’s (Crimson Tide, Spy Game) over-stylish direction. Some shots get in the way of the storytelling, especially near the end. This is also when the script tries to give Washington more action hero moments. This ruins the suspense built up through most of the film and leaves us with one more ridiculous movie car chase through busy city streets.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a decent thriller, especially in the first half, but does go off the rails near the end. A wonderful cast makes the characters fun to watch and several scenes play out expertly. It’s not a perfect movie, but there is enough for older audiences to enjoy.