John Godey's 1973 novel The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
boasts a suspense situation so surefire that even the directorial bad habits of Tony Scott can't ruin this latest movie version. Four armed men seize a New York City subway train, isolate one car, and threaten to start killing passengers if a ransom isn't paid within the hour. The ransom was a million dollars in the book and also in Joseph Sargent's solid 1974 movie, in which Robert Shaw played the mercenary leading the hostage takers and Walter Matthau was the growling transit cop trying to outsmart him. In 2009, the title has gone digital--The Taking of Pelham 123
--and inflation has jumped the asking price to $10 million. Where Shaw's menace was steely, John Travolta opts for manic, and shamelessly has a blast in the master villain role. His adversary, cagily underplayed by Denzel Washington, has been upgraded in civil-service rank but also demoted on suspicion of taking a bribe. This colors the dynamics of the dialogue between Washington at his control-center console and Travolta on the motorman's microphone aboard the stalled train.
So far, so reasonably good. But the director's trademark tactics keep getting between, well, everything. From the get-go, the visuals are subjected to pointless and irritating stutter effects, speeding-up/slowing-down, gratuitous camera movement, and the interposition of dirt- or light-smeared panes of glass between the camera and people we'd appreciate a clear look at. The 1974 movie settled for one police car being wrecked as the ransom is rushed uptown; Scott requires multiple collisions, each the occasion for police cruisers taking Lethal Weapon-style flight. The hostages in the earlier film were wittily individuated, a multicultural group portrait of the city at that mid-'70s moment; the ones on Scott's train--and also Travolta's fellow perpetrators, including that wonderful character actor Luis Guzmán--barely register. On the upside, John Turturro and James Gandolfini shine as two guys who (like the actors themselves) are very good at their jobs—respectively playing a hostage negotiator and His Honour, the mayor. The screenplay by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential
, Mystic River
) strives intelligently, if formulaically, to add new dimensions to the main characters and to offer its own gloss on the current economic meltdown. --Richard T. Jameson Stills from The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Click for larger image)
Tony Scott directs this remake of the 1974 crime thriller 'The Taking of Pelham One Two Three' which starred Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. Denzel Washington takes over Matthau's role as Lieutenant Garber, a dispatcher for the New York City Transit Police who finds himself in a face-off with criminal mastermind Ryder (John Travolta, in the role originally played by Shaw) after an armed gang hijacks a subway train and takes its passengers hostage, threatening to start executing them one by one if they are not paid a hefty ransom within the space of one hour.