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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

June 12, 2009

Skip this pointless train to nowhere


the-taking-of-pelham-123-posterI am a big fan of  Tony Scott (Crimson Tide, Domino, Man on Fire), so it pains me to write the following review.  Scott directed this misguided mess of a movie, which had me checking my watch a mere thirty minutes after the film began.  

In this remake of the 1974 movie of the same title  Denzel Washington plays Walter, who has recently been demoted to a dispatcher for the NYC subway system.  He happens to be on the receiving end of a phone call from Ryder (John Travolta) who has just hijacked a subway car and is demanding 10 million dollars from the city (specifically the mayor, played by James Gandolfini). Walter and the NYC police try to foil the hijackers before their deadline arrives at which point they will start taking the lives of hostages.  

The  screenplay was written by Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential, Mystic River), and the movie’s source material seems intriguing enough.  The problem lies with the execution of the movie, and with Tony Scott’s scattered direction.  This movie would have been great as a simple  psychological drama examining the tit-for-tat interaction Walter and Ryder engage in throughout the film, but apparently we can’t be trusted to enjoy this type of movie.

  The action sequences are extraneous, forced, and quite simply stupid.  There is a a scene where an army of police are trying to transport money across town by car.  No one is chasing them and there is a full escort, but they have multiple car and motorcycle crashes presumably just because the police are bad drivers, and to ensure that there is an action sequence in the film.  Despite the action the movie forces on us, it is just not suspenseful in the least.  

The rapid-edit film sequences and freeze frames that Scott used so innovatively early  in his career are distracting,  jarring and tired in this film.  There are also bizarre slow motion scenes that seem better suited to a music video than a big budget summer film.  

Then there is the casting.  We are meant to believe that John Travolta is a philosophical bad-ass hijacker, because he has a fu-manchu beard and he says the “f” word a lot.  When he is not dropping variations of the f-bomb, he is pontificating about the evils of the world. It is not convincing, and the cussing becomes laughable after a while, it is so pervasive.  Again, the story doesn’t need it.  We get it, you and your little posse are supposed to bad guys. 

Denzel Washington is fine, but I felt like his character was way too cool under tremendous pressure.  After just hearing an innocent person being shot to death, he doesn’t miss a beat, and is soon sharing personal anecdotes and forging a bond with Ryder, going so far as to share a chuckle.  I just didn’t buy it.  James Gandolfini as the disliked mayor and John Turturro as the hostage negotiator are far more convincing.

Adding insult to injury, the movie tries to throw in some moral lessons and commentary about the current economic crisis *eyes rolling*.  

I hope that  someday we will see Tony Scott return to his roots, but I fear he is lost to fancy camera work and movie conventions forever.  Somebody stop him before he rapid-edits himself to death. 

Frothygirlz rating 4/10


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2 Responses to “ The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 ”

  1. blake j. harris on June 12, 2009 at 10:28 am

    worry not. they’ll probably remake this movie again in the next five years and perhaps next time they’ll get it right!


  2. CJ on June 12, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    “We are meant to believe that John Travolta is a philosophical bad-ass hijacker, because he has a fu-manchu beard and he says the “f” word a lot.”

    Hey, it works for Bin Laden. Except Bin Laden’s “f” word is Fornicators.

    Well done.