The 2009 film The Taking of Pelham 123, a remake of a film with the same name some 35 years ago, is a solid but unspectacular film. Directed by Tony Scott, best known for action films such as Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, and more recently Man on Fire, the film features an odd performance by a lead actor and some fun if not predictable action sequences. One of the things you know you’re going to get from a Tony Scott film is that it’s going to be interesting to look at. It may have too much shine at times but there is always going to be a lot of money on the screen. The problem is, a lot of the scripts and plots aren’t as interesting as the visuals. This is indeed the case with Pelham 123.
The film begins with no nonsense Walter Garber as played by Denzel Washington at work as an MTA dispatcher. Garber notices a train, Pelham 123, has stopped and contacts the subway train for further information. Inside the train we see John Travolta’s character Ryder and his gang of fiends have taken over the train. Ryder gets in contact with Garber and announces that in one hour he is to receive 10 million dollars or he will kill one hostage for each minute his demands are not met. To prove he’s serious, Ryder kills the train conductor. Garber is tasked with contacting the mayor played by James Gandolfini and convincing him to hand over the 10 million. From here we get a pretty standard finish to a hostage film and we discover, that Ryder may not be after the 10 million after all.
I think the thing I take away from this film is that John Travolta can honestly look like a badass at times but the illusion is gone when he opens his mouth. In this film as Ryder, he looks particularly menacing in the beginning of the film, yet he brings this high energy, kid in a candy store, vibe that ruins any menace he might be going for. What’s strange about the performance is that his dress and look is completely contrary to his revealed job and his voice acting. Even the body language Travolta displays is just off somehow.
The rest of the cast is solid if unspectacular. Washington plays Garber in a middle class, just doing my job, kind of a way that’s a nice departure from the very big and loud performances he is normally asked to give in a Tony Scott film. What’s nice about the film is it’s not going for importance. It knows that it’s an action film and that’s what it sets out to be. It’s not going to thrill with dialogue or character development but it’s an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.