Director Tony Scott and Denzel Washington are certainly not strangers to one another. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is their fourth movie together. Their other films include Crimson Tide (1995), Man on Fire (2004) and Deja Vu (2006). They’ve teamed up again to make another version of John Godey’s 1973 book with the same name.
This story is actually the third movie based on Godey’s book. The first movie came out in 1974, with the same title, and stared Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. The next rendition was a 1998 TV movie staring Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio.
Walter Garber (Washington) is a New York City subway dispatcher. He is having a normal day until he receives a call from a lunatic named Ryder (John Travolta) who states that he and and three of his pals, played by Luis Guzman (Fighting), Victor Gojcaj and Robert Vataj, have hijacked a train, take passengers hostage and demand a ransom. The Mayor (James Gandolfini) has 1 hour to pay $10 million or Ryder and his boys will start killing one hostage for every minute their money is late.
In 1974, the ransom was $1 million. I guess the price of gas is not the only thing that has skyrocketed since the 70’s.
Helping Garber to end this crisis, hopefully, in a peaceful way, is hostage negotiator Camonetti (John Turturro, Miracle at St. Anna).
Tony Scott and screen writer Brian Helgeland (Man on Fire) try to create a fast-paced, tension-filled thriller with their updated interpretation of Godey’s classic story. Are they successful? Not Really!
Denzel Washington, James Gandolfini and John Turturro all turn in solid performances. Would you expect anything else from them? John Travolta doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before in his other villain roles. His performance seemed no different than when he was the “bad guy” in The Punisher, Swordfish or Face/Off. Ryder looks vile with a big tattoo on his neck with his maniacal laugh and he calls everybody “Mother F***ER” a bunch of times, but Ryder feels like a character we’ve seen Travolta play exactly the same before.
The scene where Garber is running through NYC with a gun in his hand chasing Ryder, a la Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, seems really out of place. When just a few moments before Garber was getting instructions on how to use a gun from a cop.
I get that earlier in the movie we find out that Garber has a skeleton in his closet that is humiliating and he sees that helping to bring Ryder down is a way for redemption, but him running through the streets, gun in hand looking like Arnold, just seems…..silly.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 lacks the wit and excellent cinematography of its 1974 predecessor, but its still better than a lot of other stuff that is out there now.