The best parts of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 occur when John Travolta and Denzel Washington communicate with one another over an intercom radio system. Their exchanges over this system are enjoyable, as we get some intense back and forth action, as well as the back-story of each of the characters. That, unfortunately, is about the only real enjoyable part of the film.
The story centers on these two men I mentioned earlier. Denzel Washington plays a train dispatcher by the name of Walter Garber. He notices that a train has become unresponsive, and he ends up talking to someone hijacking the train. John Travolta is this second man. He calls himself “Ryder”, and he wants $10 million dollars in sixty minutes, or he will begin killing the passengers on the train. One for every minute that the ransom is not in his hands.
After approximately twenty minutes, a hostage negotiator, played by John Turturro shows up, and attempts to relieve Garber of his job. Ryder doesn’t like this though, and requests Garber to come back. There seems to be some sort of weird twisted friendship building between these two characters, at least on Ryder’s behalf. “You might be the last friend I ever make”, Ryder tells him.
The rest of the film takes us through the negotiation process of dealing with a hostage taker. Travolta and Washington have multiple exchanges via the radio, some of which are humorous for the audience, some of which are thrilling, and some of which are boring. The former two of these outcomes happen more often than the latter, while the last one rarely occurs. Almost all of the actual thrilling parts of the film come from these conversations, which is a shame, because a hostage situation should be more about the hostages, and not the relationships between two characters who can’t even see one another.
The characters are the only incredibly interesting aspects of the film, save possibly for how bad the drivers of the NYPD are. Ryder doesn’t seem to be like your typical hostage taker; he’s smart, far smarter than he should be. He watches the stock market and figured out how to get the internet even while underground in a subway tunnel. Garber has a shady past, being accused of taking a bribe. That’s why he’s even working the train operation lines: He’s on probation from his high-end job with the company.
I mentioned above the NYPD are bad drivers in this film. I’m aware that speeding along the streets of New York, especially with the lives of many citizens on the line, would be a difficult thing to do at the best of time, but in the few times we cut to the police attempting to get to the subway, we see no less than three cars crash. A crash occurs almost every time we see the police cars, and these crashes are ones like you’d see in an action film. They don’t seem realistic, as cars just don’t bounce around like they do in this film.
Other problems that the film has comes mostly from Travolta’s character, who is far too over-the-top to take seriously. He’s a smart person, yes, but he also acts as if he’s a villain from a superhero film. He’s incredibly vulgar, and that even seems out-of-place. If more than a line or two goes by without him uttering some sort of profanity, we actually get some drama and sense of gravity from his character. Unfortunately, this only happens about one or two times in the film–the rest of the time, he’s can’t be taken seriously.
What The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 needs most is more tension. Maybe it’s because you don’t care about the hostages–Ryder certainly is a real threat, so that can’t be the problem–but I found myself not feeling terrified for the passengers. If Ryder killed them, it seemed like it didn’t really matter. I’m thinking it might be because there are trained snipers that are fixated on Ryder and his group the entire time, meaning that there isn’t much way for him to escape, regardless as to whether or not the money gets to Ryder or not.
This film is actually a remake of the 1974 adaptation of the Morton Freedgood novel of the same name. I haven’t seen the original film, but the newer adaptation made me curious about it. I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but judging by the general reception, I would suggest checking it out before checking out this one, if only because that is what other people have suggested. I can’t comment on the older film’s quality, but I tend to trust consensus in cases like these.
I didn’t dislike The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, but I wasn’t captivated by it either. There were some thrilling instances, but not enough to carry the entire film. Travolta’s character was one that was almost impossible to take seriously just because of how over-the-top he is played, while the story was basic enough and without any real twists to keep you engaged. The dynamic between Garber and Ryder was fun to watch, but the rest falls flat. Somewhat thrilling, but not enough to say it’s a “must watch” film.