Written by Brian Helgeland
Directed by Tony Scott
Running Time: 1:46
for violence and pervasive language.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 tried too hard to be an action/thriller and felt very forced and very flat.
Walter Garber is the unlucky man who happens to be working the Pelham subway line the day that a crazed madman named Ryder decides to hijack one of the trains. The only reason Garber happens to be working in the dispatch office is because he's under investigation for taking a bribe. Ryder and his team take control of one of the 6 trains and parks it right around 42nd street, leaving him the ability to see everything that's coming at him. What follows is a game where Garber has to try and convince the Mayor to pay Ryder $10M or Ryder will start killing hostages.
I've never seen the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three so I can't tell you if the remake is better or worse. The biggest problem I had with the current version is that it felt like the director was trying to force an action/thriller down your throat when there really wasn't a whole lot of either. The editing at times was so MTV-ish choppy and distorted I kept wondering if maybe they would have an alien attack just to keep things interesting. I mean let's face it, the majority of the movie takes place either in a single subway car trapped underground, or in an office. There isn't a whole lot of room for action and thrills. What there was room for was suspense, and unfortunately the filmmakers figured that suspense wouldn't sell tickets.
Denzel Washington was, as usual, on top of his game. We're used to seeing him play the hero, but in this case it wasn't a job he wanted. He would have been more than happy to walk away and let others do the work (with him watching from the sidelines) but instead he developed some kind of kinship with Ryder. John Travola was, at times, way too over the top as Ryder, the lead hijacker who has some tricks up his sleeve and a hidden motive for the hijacking. What the movie should have been about was the two of them and their relationship. But while we got to know a lot about Denzel's character and how he ended up where he was, we didn't learn enough about Travolta. All we saw was that Ryder was a maniac who really liked to say motherfucker as often as he possibly could. While Travolta certainly looked good, his performance was too out there to be interesting. He was really just annoying. If the filmmakers hadn't constantly been trying to turn this into a thriller we might have had a decent movie.
There was one aspect of the movie that really bugged me. Early on we see a kid on the train, video chatting with his girlfriend on his laptop. I've lived in New York for the greater part of the last 15 years and I've never seen anyone bother to try that. Why? Because you're underground! You're not going to get a strong enough signal for that to work. And yet, these two are chatting away and by a stroke of sheer luck, when the train is hijacked, loverboy drops his laptop with the screen wide open, and it lands underneath the seats where no one can see it. And when the hijackers rig their own internet feed, the camera pops back to life and the girlfriend can see everything. So of course she streams it to her web site and suddenly the whole world can see it. Except even though Ryder is checking the internet for live news feeds, he doesn't realize it's happening. The whole scenario really bothered me because it was unnecessary. It was scarier when the people in the office could only hear what was going on. That's why the best horror films scare you with the unknown, rather than showing you people being hacked up.
The last thing that bugged me was the real reason Ryder hijacked the train **Spoiler Alert** - he wanted to manipulate the markets so that he could make a killing in the gold market. It's a reasonable idea and something that could have worked. Except the entire movie takes place over the course of an hour to an hour and a half. While I understand New York City is a little gun shy about possible terrorist activity, the idea that within that 90 minute span the markets would tumble so badly Ryder could make $300M seems unlikely to me. Bad things happen in this city every day, so I don't know why a news story of some nutcase taking over a subway train would put people into that much of a panic. We may be a little more sensative here in NYC, but we're still tough.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I was disappointed with The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. I enjoyed the fact that it took place in NYC and I thought Denzel's performance was strong. But the movie tried too hard to be an action/thriller when it should have been a character piece filled with suspense.
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