Movie Reviews

Film Review: “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3”

(Columbia Pictures. 1 hour, 46 minutes. Rated R for violence and pervasive language. Directed by Tony Scott.) Denzel Washington (Walter Garber), John Travolta (Ryder), Luis Guzmán (Phil Ramos), Victor Gojcaj (Bashkim), John Turturro (Camonetti), James Gandolfini (Mayor). Music by Harry Gregson-Williams.

Garber (Washington), a New York subway dispatcher under suspicion for taking a bribe, becomes an impromptu negotiator when a train is hijacked in the tunnels. Now, Garber must match wits with the maniacal Ryder (Travolta) as 20 hostages’ lives hang in the balance. I will admit that I haven’t seen the original, but it had to have been better than this incarnation. Despite a relatively strong cast, the movie is dragged down by uneven performances, a deteriorating plot and Tony Scott’s signature “style.” Much of the cast, including Turturro and Gandolfini, performs capably, though they aren’t given much to do. However, I couldn’t really draw a bead on the two main characters. Aside from a couple of glimpses of humanity, Washington is so earnest and straight-faced as to seem disconnected from the proceedings. Travolta, on the other hand, is playing his same scenery-chewing villain whose outbursts are more annoying than fearsome (his penchant for the “f-word” is both bothersome and unnecessary).

The film is at its best when it focuses on the terse, tense exchanges between Garber and Ryder. By the final third, though, it begins to unravel, turning into an overdone action movie with an anticlimactic ending. Unfortunately, some of the film’s potential impact is drowned out by the incessant style applied by Scott. The frenetic editing, overuse of slow motion and other effects and the constantly moving camera are tiring at best and headache-inducing at worst. It seems like Tony is too unsure of his ability to tell a story, so he hides behind as much visual style as he can muster. A potentially decent remake that collapses under its own weight.

[Note from Regina: I haven’t seen this new incarnation yet but I am familiar with the first version. It seems appropriate as I write this from New York City, my home town, but seeking out the original will give you a good snapshot of ’70s cynical, budget-crisis New York as well as the chance to enjoy an underrated psychological drama with the late, lamented Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. It wasn’t appreciated on first release but is now considered an overlooked minor gem.]

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Jared Counts

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Jared Counts moved to Houston in 1995, survived high school and college, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Houston with a degree in Communications (Media Production) and a minor in Film Studies. After being hired part-time at KUHF Radio in early 2003, he proceeded to bounce between...

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