Friday, October 30, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

Movie quotes:
Ryder: So, for five-hundred bucks they'll take you on a dog-sled ride on a glacier.
Garber: Dog-sled?
Ryder: Yeah... and you know that old saying that if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes?
Garber: [stares at his boss] Right, otherwise you're always looking at the asshole of the dog in front of you.
Ryder: That'll be funny in a minute when I get to that part.
Garber: It's funny now.

Ryder: These tunnels don't change much, do they?
Garber: Just the people in 'em.

At a glance:
A solid cast, led by John Travolta and Denzel Washington, try to salvage this weak train-hijack remake, but are done in by a poorly structured script and needlessly over-stylized action sequences

Our review (with spoilers):
Personality-laden psychopath Ryder (John Travolta) assembles a band of tough ex-cons and hijacks a New York subway car, complete with hostages. His ransom demand is a cool 10 million dollars, but he has a hidden agenda that will earn him much more. To facilitate his goals, he forms an unlikely partnership with his nominated negotiator, train dispatcher Garber (Denzel Washington). Ryder considers Garber a kindred spirit – they each got in trouble for stealing money, although the amount stolen and the amount of trouble varied greatly.

There’s a bottomless well of potential drama available when you pit a crazed hostage taker in a tense battle of wits with a sharp but unsure dispatcher. Throw in Tony Scott’s ambitious editing and what could go wrong? Well, a trainful of things could. The structure of the script is way off. The psychological battle between Ryder and Garber takes center stage and becomes the dominant feature of the film. This still could have worked, but the story is again derailed by a pointless side-track into Garber’s redemption story. It seems Garber may have taken a bribe. Or maybe he didn’t. He got demoted and is under investigation by a bully boss who is obviously jealous of Garber’s success. My thoughts on this? Who cares about Garber’s redemption! Have we forgotten that we have to rescue a subway car full of hostages?  Eventually, even Ryder doesn’t care about the hostages, and this ends up being a huge plot hole. His flawed escape plan is to jettison the hostages and sneak through a neglected side-tunnel and out onto the street. Except – he’s trying to sneak out a tunnel that all the subway workers know about! This also leads to a long Ryder/Garber car chase - something that had no place in a film about a train hijacking. Finally, even Tony Scott goes fully over the top with his staccato editing. He attempts to make flying a helicopter from point A to point B much more exciting than it really could ever be.

In the end, Pelham milks what it can from its star-studded cast, with John Turturro and James Gandolfini improving on clich├ęd lines. Scott keeps things moving as he always does, so the film is as easy to watch as it is to forget. But why does it exist - why remake an almost perfect film?

Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Featuring good work from the dependable Denzel, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is hampered by hyper-kinetic visuals from Scott, an over-zealous turn from Travolta and a thoughtless script from Brian Helgeland."
- James Mottram (Channel 4 Film)

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