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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

A movie directed by Tony Scott

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Not As Thrilling as the 1974 Action Classic But More Decent Than Most Crime Thrillers

  • Nov 6, 2009

It has been maybe 10-12 years since I saw the original “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” and I think it would be safe to assume that a vast majority of the crowds in the multiplexes haven’t even heard of the movie. The original was based on the book by John Godey and while it has a very simple premise; but as I can remember, it was a great movie because of its simplicity. Directed by Joseph Sargent, the 1974 original had a very intense screenplay that fares detective Zach Garber (Walter Matthau) against a ruthless gang leader called Mr. Blue (played by Robert Shaw, his character partly inspired “Reservoir Dogs”). Its script was very well-executed with dialogue that complements the superb performances of its cast. It does have the bare minimum in action but truth be told, Sargent’s movie is as good as it gets when it comes to an intense, suspenseful and fast-paced crime thriller.
This 2009 remake is directed by Tony Scott and those familiar with his work know that he may be the right pick to pull off a quick-moving thriller with an abundance of style. This time the movie pits John Travolta as “Ryder”, the leader of the team of gunmen who takes over a subway train and Denzel Washington as a demoted subway dispatcher named Walter Garber. Ryder is demanding 10 million dollars from the city of New York in an hour or he will kill one hostage every minute past the deadline and Garber unfortunately becomes the man who takes his call. Garber is an employee who despite his years of service to the Transit Authority has gotten very little to show for and is currently under investigation by his superiors. Faced with the situation, Garber becomes the reluctant ’messenger boy’ of Ryder and for reasons unclear, Ryder becomes obsessed with Garber that raises suspicion amidst the local authorities including the police negotiator (John Turturro), the mayor (James Gandolfini) and Garber’s superiors. 

          Denzel Washington as Walter Garber and John Turturro as Camonetti in "The Taking of Pelham 123."
The screenplay in the original “Pelham” was lean, quick and simple; it is the no-senses approach that made it a favorite in the action thriller genre that it became a classic among action fans. It was generically simple but so effective as the bad guys take hostages, demand to be paid and plan on their escape while the good guys try to keep them from their objective. It had a limited potential but it played on its strengths well even by staying within the subway and the control station’s backdrop. This remake made some changes in characterization and added some more depth to the characters most especially the role of Denzel Washington. Tony Scott makes an effort to try and credibly re-imagine the original’s technique in inducing suspense making Walter Garber to have a very questionable background. It does work on some levels and I am not going to waste time comparing this 2009 remake to the original. Scott has been associated with several near misses such as “Domino” and “Man On Fire”; the man has worked many times with Washington and this remake may be the best scripted movie Scott has done the past few years. It isn’t “True Romance” but it will do.

              John Travolta as Ryder in "The Taking of Pelham 123."
The film’s script tries to cover more depth and characterization with Ryder’s character. He is revealed as someone with a motive and the movie tries to answer questions as to what or who he is. Shaw’s Mr. Blue appeared to be more of a single-minded villain; he wants money or he will kill the hostages, it’s simple as that. The screenplay in this remake tries to develop the antagonist as a person and while I can appreciate this, I miss the good old days when the villain was just an unknown element in a battle of wills. Still, John Travolta’s “Ryder” is very manic and the actor is given plenty of material to make his character a tad over-the-top and cartoonish. It’s not like he isn’t scary or intense, but a little uneven since he can be quite convincing but at times almost laughable. Travolta does make a good villain, but I think Scott may have overplayed his frenzied character a little too much. Denzel Washington is a superb actor and he is very sympathetic and plays his role with a solid emotional stance that was able to grab my attention. The two are among the best known and big name stars in the industry, and I thought it was impressive as to how they attempted to make a straight and simple thriller that makes their character the film’s central focus rather than who they are; Travolta wasn’t bad even good, but Washington was just awesome. 

          John Turturro as Camonetti in "The Taking of Pelham 123."

                                 A scene from the film "The Taking of Pelham 123."
We all know Tony Scott likes to pull off the style over substance stimuli to add a little extra to the film’s proceedings. The direction sticks to several editing tricks that keep the movie moving but he still manages to pitch in several things that make the story a little more than it actually is. I managed to pitch in some emotion as with the scenes with Garber and his wife, Garber’s guilt and how current society treats its citizens. The film also touches upon the lines of morality as Scott brings some questions into Garber’s character; the man isn’t your squeaky clean hero, but rather that is very flawed and damaged. Yet, Garber is the man who tries to make the most of his opportunities, for better or worse. The script by Brian Helgeland may have its merits as to characterization but I rather thought that they were a little unnecessary.
“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is a good movie with good intentions but it isn’t the ‘great’ movie the original film was. The stylish visuals are Tony Scott’s signature and this style is what made he a bankable director in Hollywood, but it borders on becoming surfeit. The added changes in characterization does have its worth but it also hampered the film’s potential as a simple thrill-packed crime thriller, that it tried too hard to become something that it shouldn‘t be in the first place. The film is entertaining and the performances saves the film from becoming your usual H-wood thriller, it was good enough but won’t become the classic the original with Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau was. The original was a classic entry in the action thriller genre, while I have to say that this remake is inferior, this 2009 edition is good enough to get a recommended rating.
Recommended with caution, rent it first [3 ½ Stars]
Not As Thrilling as the 1974 Action Classic But More Decent Than Most Crime Thrillers Not As Thrilling as the 1974 Action Classic But More Decent Than Most Crime Thrillers Not As Thrilling as the 1974 Action Classic But More Decent Than Most Crime Thrillers Not As Thrilling as the 1974 Action Classic But More Decent Than Most Crime Thrillers

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November 13, 2010
Agreed WP, this was a good one but it was not the classic it could have been with Denzel in the lead.
November 06, 2009
It's sad when they do a remake of a film that was directly referencing the political atmosphere of the time in which it was made. If they remake "Dirty Harry" or "The French Connection" I'm bypassing American cinema altogether.
November 07, 2009
I agree. Films usually reflect the society or its state of being at the time which is why remakes usually don't work. This was still a good movie but just falls a little too short to the taut, thrilling experience with the original. The original is available free in ondemand.
More The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 reviews
review by . October 18, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Two great actors. Action packed. Kept me sitting on the edge for 2 hours or so and it's not because I didn't buckle up in the plane nor is it because there are air pockets!      Saw it on my flight from Hong Kong to Singapore on our very own tiny airplane seat screen. That didn't stopped me from enjoying an entire show though.      It was mostly dialogues and acting by the 2 main actors and yet it felt like the fast moving subway train. Yes, it's …
review by . July 22, 2011
It's astonishing that anyone considers Tony Scott to be anything other than a hack. Just a brief perusal of his oeuvre confirms this certainty: the moronic posturing and inexplicably unintentional homoeroticism of Top Gun; the noisy tedium of ostentatious actioners like The Last Boy Scout and Crimson Tide; odious, brain-dead vehicles for Denzel Washington and Tom Cruise (neither of whom have turned in a single noteworthy performance in over a decade) such as Days of Thunder, the lesser of two …
review by . August 12, 2010
Here we have another movie set in NYC, this time in it subway system. Denzel Washington plays the good guy and Travolta plays the bad guy. The plot is simple enough; a group of men take a subway car full of passengers hostage and hold them for ransom. They receive the ransom money and try to get away, but don't make it far due to Washington's cunning, quick thinking and craftiness. Besides the two main characters, the movie features a lot of smaller names such as James Gandolfini as NYC's mayor. …
review by . November 06, 2009
I like Tony Scott I think he's an awesome director with a great style and a brilliant way of film making. But he just didn't know how to use it, until now.               The Taking of Pelham 123 is a breathtaking, mind blowing, brilliant, atmospheric, stylish, daring and clever. It's an action drama or heist drama that's got the heart the depth of character and the emotion to be worthy of greatness. Tony Scott the director of such favorites as Man …
review by . November 05, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Tony Scott lavishes his directorial style on this remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123, based on John Godey's novel and adapted for the screen by Brian Helgeland. For some viewers this ruins the gold standard of the original film: for this viewer it heightens the mass, faceless, rapidly paced anonymity of life on the New York subways and makes the pace of the story almost breathless. This time around Denzel Washington is the demoted dispatcher who must deal directly with the insane John Travolta and …
review by . December 01, 2009
A Film with Great Pieces of Acting, but in the End, Nothing Special...
At first glance, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, seemed like it was going to be a really entertaining film, full of action packed scenes with some really great acting put into the mix.  While Pelham did have some really good acting, the action sequences lacked the umph they needed to makes it a really good film.  With pain staking predictability added into the fold, Pelham 1 2 3 didn't make the cut.  This seems to be the theme for remakes these days though, they end up faltering because …
Quick Tip by . October 18, 2009
I just watched this movie on the plane yesterday. It's awesome acting by Denzel W & John T. Fascinating, fast paced & I highly enjoyed it!
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About this movie


 The Taking of Pelham 123 is a 2009 thriller film, directed by Tony Scott, and starring Denzel Washington, and John Travolta. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Morton Freedgood (writing under the pseudonym John Godey), and is a remake of the original 1974 film adaptation, which was also remade in 1998 as a TV movie. Production of the current remake began in March 2008, and the film was released on June 12, 2009.[2]

John Godey's 1973 novelThe Taking of Pelham One Two Threeboasts 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 ...
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Director: Tony Scott
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: June 12, 2009
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Brian Helgeland, John Godey
DVD Release Date: November 3rd 2009
Runtime: 106 Mins.
Studio: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Sony Pictures
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