Flixchatter Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

Ok now, The Taking of Pelham 123 is yet another remake (clearly Hollywood’s long been out of original ideas!) of a subway train being hijacked. It’s a simple premise really, but director Tony Scott managed to inject enough tension and sharp dialogue to keep audience engaged. This is a story of an ordinary man forced into extraordinary circumstances, played brilliantly by Denzel Washington. The normally dashing Oscar winner was able to convince us he’s just a regular joe in a not-so-regular day at work. Compared to his debonair and opulent look in American Gangster with his sharply-pressed suit, he’s almost entirely transformed here. Most of the time, his character Walter Garber looks perplexed and frazzled, but yet you still gets a sense he’d get the job done and carry the day in the end.

John Travolta’s role offers a strong contrast as the ultimate baddie. A self-described wronged man, Ryder is hell-bent on revenge against the NYC government, Travolta channeled his role as Castor Troy in Face/Off with his sinister laughs and facial ticks. Just like Troy, he’s not an entirely unsympathetic villain—one can’t help feeling sorry for him as much as we despise what he does.

Instead of filling it with non-stop action sequences, the movie consist a large amount of dialogue between Ryder and Garber, mostly over an intercom. I have no problem with that, in fact it makes the action sequences and car crashes all the more effectively jolting.

The one thing I could do without is the crude language and overly excessive amount of @$$ jokes for my taste, which I don’t think is necessary. IHMO, If they take all the profanities out, I don’t think it’d lessen the impact of the whole situation. Someone else might pick on the migrane-inducing shaky camera movement used throughout. It seems to be the technique du jour ever since the Bourne series came about. Doesn’t bother me though, but I feel that it’s not as highly effective as the way it was done in Bourne where it almost enhances the plotline.

In any case, I think the script is a strong one and it’s truly what’s good about this flix. The  enjoyable repartee lets you in on the character’s own dilemmas and predicaments, making their ‘connection’ believable. You enjoy their banter so much that at one point when Garber’s replaced by an official hostage negotiator (played by John Turturro) — a costly move on the part of the hostages — we want Garber back as much as Ryder does. The two finally face off towards the end, and Travolta quips, ‘You’re taller than I imagined you’d be. And good lookin’ too.’ It’s a funny line delivered in the same manner as when Castor Troy visits ‘himself’ in jail in the form of Nicolas Cage (you have to see Face/Off to know what I mean, hmmm now I want to watch it again myself!)

Besides Turturro, James Gandolfini was another solid supporting cast member. When I saw him I thought, ‘What, Tony Soprano? Wow Ryder picked the wrong mayor to deal with today!’  But Gandolfini revealed  his funny side not much seen by the public, which is too bad because his comic timing is spotless. Coming out of his limo, he said ‘I left my Rudy Giulliani suit at home’ in an apparent jab at the former Republican mayor. I actually saw his funny side in this little-seen musical called Romance & Cigarettes, which strangely enough was directed by  John Turturo! I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2005. It was around 11 AM and the director himself came and introduced the flick. He said “sorry you had to watch a dirty film so early in the morning” or something like that. It was a rather vulgar but hilarious musical where Gandolfini sang and danced along with a terrific cast of Christopher Walken, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet (as his prostitute lover!).

Sorry I digress. Overall, Pelham is a pretty good movie. It won’t win an Oscar, nor would it linger in your memory for days to come. It could’ve been better under a more capable hand at the helm, say Michael Mann. Nevertheless, with Washington and Travolta in top form, it’s a pretty entertaining flix worth your 10 bucks.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Have you seen this movie? Well what do you think?

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3 thoughts on “Flixchatter Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

  1. Mike Beery

    I’m so old that I remember when the original movie was new. And the original wasn’t exactly something that seemed worthy of a re-make. It sounds like from your review that if you re-cast with top notch actors and update the script that you can re-package about any old movie for a new audience. Recycling obviously works for Hollywood too it seems …

  2. PrairieGirl

    My dear rtm, your compositions about films are very much more like thoughtful retrospects than reviews. When I think film review I think of the two Ben’s from At The Movies who take 3 minutes to sound-bite a movie and then say Skip It, Rent It, or See It. Helpful? Not so much, I’ve been very sorry I’ve watched several of their See Its. And then there’s Rottentomatoes.com – wouldn’t you think a tomato rating would be a strike against, not for?

    Anyway, please don’t let thoughts of spoiler alerts get in the way of what you’re writing. I really like the fact that you don’t say “you must see this film” or not. Based on what I’ve read here so far, you are graciously leading all to the fountain, but let everyone decide for themselves whether they will take a drink, or not. Grazie!

  3. If the trademark Scott gloss serves as a superficial hook, his also-adept manner of building tension and suspense then keeps one interested. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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