This present-day New York City thriller remake has two of the most well known, great actors of our time revamping roles by two other well known, great actors of an earlier time. Denzel Washington and John Travolta taking over for classic actors Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw respectively. New York always seems to be the dead on target for some kind of threat or disaster. Out of towner’s wonder why we are called “the city that never sleeps”. Yes, it is because we usually don’t sleep, from round the clock jobs to hanging out or partying, there is always something going on there. But, it may also be because some of us are just downright paranoid as hell that something horrible might happen to our city again. Films such as this from the point of view of director Tony Scott remind all of us why.
Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber, a NYC transit official who is in charge of running the subways beneath the streets of the city. Right from the get go, Jay-Z’s 99Problems lets the audience know exactly where they are and that in a city such as this, anything can and usually does happen. Garber has to contend not just with guiding the subway trains safely throughout the underground tunnels but also with Ryder (John Travolta), a slightly more than aggravated subway rider whose team of bad guys hijacks the 6 train ( J. Lo would not be happy about this) with quite a few passengers on board. He calls in to the main command center to report his terrorist tendered crime and gets Garber at the other end. In disarray about the situation that has just sprung upon him, Garber unwillingly relays Ryder’s demands to the officials and ultimately the mayor.
Immediately things get a little more than hairy when Garber turns the mic over to police negotiator, Lt. Camonetti (John Turturro) and Ryder refuses to speak to him. He threatens to kill one of the passengers unless they get Garber back on the mic to speak with him. Camonetti quickly realizes Ryder isn’t bluffing after one passenger meets their demise without hesitation at the hands of Ryder and Garber is hastily retrieved to resume communication with Ryder. The majority of the film is filled with rich and entertaining conversation between Ryder and Garber. Although it is revealed that Garber is under investigation for allegedly accepting money to sway his vote regarding a transit contract decision, the audience can easily tell that he is good person just trying to do his job and help people at the same time. The hijacking of a subway train doesn’t seem like it’s worth the trouble or price that Ryder is asking for the more the movie moves on. There seems like there is something more there and your mind will want to wander to think about this but the story written by Brian Helgleland does a good job of keeping you focused and occupied.
It’s always good to hear an authentic New York accent portrayed well in the movies. Denzel has done this before in other films like Inside Man and he does it again in this one. Being from Mount Vernon, NY himself, I’m sure it’s not too much of a stretch for him to speak like a native New Yorker. As usual his acting is spot on for his character, a mild mannered individual trying to keep his cool while possibly becoming a hero. John Travolta brings his bad guy A game as Ryder in this project, making the audience try to decide whether or not he is an evil genius or just completely insane. Every time the movie seems to slow down, he brings it back up to speed.
The story is based off of a novel by John Godey which was made into the original film that debuted in 1974. While it doesn’t exactly keep you clinging to the edge of your seat, it will keep your attention peaked and yearning to find out what happens next. If hostage negotiation had its own genre of film, Pelham 123 would be in it and if it had a class, Denzel Washington would the professor. I also appreciated the fact that an abundance of gunplay was not overloaded into this film; there was a nice balance between the action and drama.
As far as thrillers go, this one is solid with a liquid ending that could have been better thought out. It kind of just ended for me without a real climax or cliffhanger. Other than that, this film is enjoyable at most with some room for improvement. I give The Taking of Pelham 123 “3 hijacked subway cars out of 5”.
-“This make you feel better, Garber? That make everything okay now?”
-“No, but it’s a start.”