The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 Reviews
In 1974, NYC was cankered and haunted; teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, Jobs were disappearing and the city heaved with criminal element. The middle-class fled for the quiet and safe outer suburbia leaving the old-fashioned neighbourhoods to rot.
Director Joseph Sargent captured the depravity, anxiety and dread of the time with the first of three adaptations of John Godey's grimy dimestore subway-hijacking thriller novel, Taking of Pelham 123. The movie was no master piece but it was a concise emulation of the economy realism reflects its era.
The 2009 version reflects ours. Obviously reworked to cash in under the guise of the current GFC, it crucially fails to portray the originals deep seeded angst. Is it that New York itself is now a flashier, far less gritty, hollow shell of is former nonchalant heyday or is it perhaps recession or no recession, the NY subway is not longer a source of danger and hijackers don't instil fear unless their called terrorists?
Recently demoted transit dispatcher Walter Garber's (Denzel Washington) ordinary day is hurled into chaos when a volatile criminal mastermind demanding to be addressed as Ryder (John Travolta) at gunpoint hijacks a Bronx-bound subway train.
Ryder mathematically demands $52,631.58 for each of his 19 hostages (totalling $1,000,000) within 60 minutes and if not produced, without hesitation, he will execute one hostage (or commodity as he infers) each minute it is late.
Garber reluctantly becomes an unofficial hostage negotiator, clumsily attempting to keep Ryder happy and calm by trading uneasy personal histories. The telephonic verbal sparring commences with great speed and both sides inadvertently let too much slip. Garber's morally questionable passed accentuates his rapport with his new found friends, but does Ryder have a hidden agenda?
Tony Scott is not known for his low-key approach to directing, he could never be confused with someone who cares for characterisation, depth or subtlety. Scott's overly rambunctious intrusive score, ridiculously flamboyant camerawork and over-frenetic editing is an insult to the senses and never allows the intimacy between dispatcher and tyrant to develop.
What it crucially fails to do, especially in the light of its illustrious predecessor, is justify its own existence. The deflated tone is ever urgent, dangerous and important. It delivers a meatier back story than the original for its lead characters but is burdened by Scott's overzealous need to be bigger, brasher and much louder.
Travolta and Washington have considerable chemistry. Strictly limited to the first half, Screenplay writer Brian Helgeland sneakily shoehorns some intelligence into the script allowing the naturally talented and charismatic leads to showcase the depth and meaning in the breathless tension shared between their characters.
However as per the uniquely unsuited coffee-welding action maestro Scott's requirements "this is movie making on steroids" and nothing can compensate for the careening train of a climax that essentially derails.
With endless sub-plots and innuendo Washington's character morphs from a mild-mannered civil servant into a Bruce Willis-esque gun-toting superhero and Travolta with his ridiculous goatee suspends belief by deviating from initial intellectually calculated plans leaves ending scenes lacking creditability.
The Verdict: In retrospect this subterranean caper is nothing more than a filler for this years release timeline. The original had the power to inspire Director Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" colour coded names and spawned two remakes, However this one inspires you to take headache medication.
You may end up feeling pulverised by the cosmetic mediocrity of the action so here is a task you can focus on; Count how many times can Google receive product placement in one film? Just food for though.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 21/08/2009