The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

Director Tony Scott has worked with Denzel Washington three times before (Déjà Vu, Man on Fire and Crimson Tide), and the duo reteam for this decent, if occasionally over-stylized and over-acted, remake of the 1974 thriller of the same name.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Director: Tony Scott

Actors: Denzel Washington, John Travolta

Year: 2009

MPAA Rating: R

Country: USA

Washington is everyman Walter Garber, an NYC transit-control operator, who happens to be overseeing the system when hulking villain “Ryder” (John Travolta) and his henchmen commandeer a subway train and take its passengers hostage.  Demanding $10 million (plus one cent) from the mayor (James Gandolfini), Ryder gives Garber a super-conservative deadline and promises to begin executing one passenger at a time for every extra minute he’s forced to wait. With an effectively useless NYPD hostage negotiator (John Turturro) on hand, Garber tries to prevent the execution of commuters, orchestrate the delivery of the ransom money, and maintain his cool amid the chaos.

Simple and predictable enough in terms of plot and storyline, Pelham works as a suspense thriller because the stakes are raised pretty much from the get-go. Ryder and crew make it clear – to Garber and the audience – that they’re willing to kill folks on board the train… because the bloodshed starts fairly early. So, thankfully, it’s never a case of believing everyone will come out alive, and that allows for tension to creep in nicely.

Washington turns in a solid performance, and Turturro makes for a decent “sidekick” (for lack of a better term) as the guy who wants to lead the charge but who has to play second fiddle because Garber is more relatable as far as the bad guys are concerned.

Problems arise, though, with Travolta – who’s a tad over-the-top in his effort to be a bad-ass, especially when his character’s history is slowly revealed and a lot of it doesn’t really ring true – and with the needless flourishes Scott and his team make in the editing/filmmaking process. Over and over again, slow-mo is inserted for no discernable reason, as are freeze-frame shots and other editing bells and whistles that just wind up being distracting instead of enhancing or supporting the action. Sometimes, the simpler way is the better one (I say that as someone who dug those same effects in Scott’s Domino), and all of the extra “business” popping up artistically sort of undercut what was happening onscreen emotionally. At least for me.

Nonetheless, Pelham clicks along a nice pace and should provide a gritty film-going alternative to some of the more higher-octane summer offerings.


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