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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
5 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Tony Scott

Written By:
Brian Helgeland, John Godey

John Travolta, Denzel Washington, John Turturro, James Gandolfini, Luis Guzmán, Jason Butler Harner, Brian Haley, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Michael Rispoli, Ramon Rodriguez, Chance Kelly, John Benjamin Hickey, Tonye Patano, Jason Cerbone, Adrian Martinez, Ty Jones, Katherine Sigismund, Eliezer Meyer, Mark Vincent, Daniel Stewart Sherman, John Lavelle, James Thomas Bligh, Joseph Cintron, Dawn Douglas, Brad Lee Wind, Douglas J. Aguirre, Bryant Pearson, Courtney S. Bunbury, Teddy Valdes, Neville White, Ryan Shibley, Angel Rosa, Mike Houston, Laurie Cole, Chris Parson, Sean Meehan, Catherine Pierce, Aron Charach, Tony Joe, Alex Kaluzhsky, Jake Richard Siciliano, Victor Gojcaj, Jake Richard Siciliano, Rene David Ifrah, Nicholas Rich, Douglas Schneider, Todd Travis Warrick, Robert Vataj, Julian Walker, Zach Poole, Brieann Rich, Vince Puma, J. Bernard Calloway, Carl Low, Chip Brookes, Ben Greene, David Ptalis, CarloVito Santangelo

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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
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Movie Review by Ben
June 23rd, 2009

Now, from the mechanics of hell, we bring you this week's edition of the Hollywood Remake Machine. Yes they're back, plundering the films of the past to suck you in with whatever dollars are left from your wallet (and that's even if you're unemployed). This week's victim is "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3." Based on the book by John Godey, it was first made into a movie back in 1974 with Walter Matthau as policeman Garber, and Robert Shaw as Bernard Ryder. Some may have forgotten, but there was another remake of this as a TV movie back in 1998 with Edward James Olmos, Lorraine Bracco, and Vincent D'Onofrio. But it looks like one single remake was just not enough, so Hollywood remade it AGAIN, and this one is further proof that... Oh wait a minute... This one is actually good! What happened? Could it be? YES!!! ...Ahem... Excuse me for going overboard there. We aren't exactly talking about a classic, but of one that delivers the goods.

This version of "Pelham 1 2 3" comes to us from director Tony Scott, the man who gave us "Top Gun" and "Beverly Hills Cop II" among other movies, and who is also the younger brother of Ridley Scott. Along with Tony in this one is an actor he has worked with several times before, Denzel Washington. In addition, you have John Travolta as the chief hijacker of the bunch. They take on the roles that were first immortalized on the big screen by Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. The basic premise of the movie remains the same: a group of hijackers (but of course, they are called terrorists these days) takes over a subway train, stops it in a tunnel, unhooks the other cars on the train, thus leaving them with one train car to worry about, and then they make their intentions clear. They want $10 million dollars in exactly 60 minutes, and not a minute over. For every minute they are late, they will shoot a hostage. This particular story will always be referred to as "Die Hard on a subway." With all the amazing advances in technology, you'd figure that this premise would not work in today's world with utter dependence on electronics to keep us informed and in touch. This is especially the case considering the paranoid feeling that the FBI and CIA are watching us all the time.

But Tony Scott gives us a film that, unlike the 1998 TV movie, is not simply a shot for shot remake. Tony takes the premise and updates it for today's world, and gives us an action thriller that is more psychological than anything else. Just when you think you know where the story is heading, it takes a sharp turn and leaves you wondering what will happen next. I imagine there might be some gaps in logic to be found here, but I certainly wasn't thinking about them while watching the movie. I was too busy getting caught up in the suspense and excitement of it all. For once, the excuse of cell phones not working actually makes sense and doesn't simply insult our collective intelligence. Plus, all the characters (including the bad guys) make effective use of the technology available to them to where each side is manipulating the other.

Brian Helgeland, the screenwriter of "LA Confidential" and "Mystic River," scripted this version (David Koepp did some work on it too, but he was not given credit). While the 1974 version functioned more as a cat and mouse game between the cops and the hijackers, this one is more focused on the relationship between Garber and (as Travolta's character asks Garber to call him) Ryder. This brings me to one of the things I really liked about this version; we get characters who are morally compromised, and who have more in common with each other than they realized, and the line between them is not simply black or white. How they see each other really humanizes the story and keeps it from becoming just another average action flick.

Denzel Washington's character of Garber is essentially a good guy, but he has been accused of bribery and is up on charges that leave is a heavy cloud of uncertainty hanging over his every move. For a ridiculously brief moment, I thought Denzel would be wrong for this role. Throughout his great career, we have seen him play many powerful leaders and of men in charge (or so they think) of everything and everybody around him. To see him play a regular blue collar kind of guy, being the big superstar that he is, made me worry that I wouldn't buy him as a Garber the train dispatcher. What the hell was I thinking?! Denzel more than sells himself in the part as a regular joe, and you feel every ounce of his frustration as he struggles to maintain a situation he was not supposed to be put into. Whatever you think of his character, he makes you root for him despite the things he may have done wrong. Denzel once again reminds us (especially those who foolishly forgot) that he is one of the very best film actors, period.

John Travolta has had an iffy record in playing the bad guy, and this is mainly because we spent so much time watching him be the hero when we were younger. Sure, he did the bad guy really well in John Woo's "Face/Off," but then he played one of the most pu**y-whipped b*tches of a mob boss ever in "The Punisher." By the way, that was one of the worst adaptations of a Marvel Comic ever! But as "Ryder," Travolta gives us a furiously good performance and creates a very effectively dangerous character he doesn't always sell you on. This is the same guy who a year or two ago, gave us the delightful Edna from "Hairspray." Whereas Robert Shaw's mercenary character was in control of his emotions, Travolta's character is a powder keg of resentment and vengeance. Ryder is not a mercenary, but a former broker on Wall Street who just finished a stretch in prison, and now he has a score to settle with the city that sent him to the big house for 10 years instead of letting him plea bargain for 3. I almost wanted to laugh when I saw him with those tattoos on his neck, but Travolta really does come off as a bad ass mofo you do not want to mess with.

What I really liked about this version of "Pelham 1 2 3" is that it manages to not just repeat every single scene you saw in the original. Both Tony Scott and Brian Helgeland have effectively managed to update the story to a post 9/11 world where the threat of terrorism always feels like it's around the corner, waiting like a snake to strike. Also, by giving a lot of focus to the two main characters and making them far from perfect adds a little more reality and genuine feeling to the more intense moments of the movie. I am so sick of the flawless hero in the movies who doesn't have a single thing wrong with him or her. We need these characters to have flaws that we can recognize in ourselves so that we can relate to them and share in their danger, a danger they didn't ask to be a part of. Thanks to the filmmakers and actors, they pulled it off very well.

The movie does share similar moments with the 1974 version, but it deviates from it in ways I couldn't have seen coming. The ending is also a lot different from the original, which by the way was one of my all time favorites. All the same, I'm glad Tony Scott and company didn't try to top the cleverness of that one. It would have been cool, but that is a hard ending to match. While this one ends in a more routine way, it is still exciting.

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Jun 23, 2009 10:38 PM
I can't bring myself to watch this in the theaters because I can't in good conscience support Travolta work anymore. I might catch it much later on DVD out of boredom, but anyone who denies that their clearly autistic child isn't autistic based on their religion not believing in it loses my box office dollars.
Jul 2, 2009 11:27 PM
Interesting point. Scientology seems to get a lot of people to believe in things that are not true.

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