Friday, July 10, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

Powered by Denzel & Travolta
by Reymundo Salao

New York City subway dispatcher Walter Garber's ordinary day is turned into a day of tense, chaotic panic when armed men have seized control of a subway train, and have threatened to kill its passengers if the city does not pay them 10 million dollars within one hour. The leader of the armed men who calls himself Ryder and Garber go into a intensified psychological interplay as Garber hopes to stop Ryder or at least buy time for the hostages to be free.

This movie, directed by Tony Scott and stars Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, and James Gandolfini, is based on the thriller novel 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. Before I move on with my review, I would like to let it known that I have not seen the 1974 movie, so my opinion may not take into consideration the ’74 version as a comparison.

What is so great about this movie is the exchange between Travolta and Denzel, the way they play each other, how good these actors are and how well the script makes them go into this conflict of wits and suspenseful drama. The strongest point in this movie is the acting between these two. This is Travolta in his familiar villain mode, the kind of characterization he had in movies like Broken Arrow and Face/Off, probably a more impulsive version of those villains. Denzel, on the other hand, plays the “every man” kind of guy who is quite a vulnerable character, and has his own human flaws, he appears even a bit overweight than usual, probably to make his character come as close to a regular “every man” as can be. James Gandolfini is funny as the mayor, and it was just so refreshing to see John Turturro play a serious role once again (after he embarrassed himself in that Transformers movie). Turturro plays a hostage negotiator who struggles to make the negotiations run smoothly and without some casualty, and also to guide Garber on how to deal with the hostage takers.

The film has the familiar Tony Scott style of stylish cuts and wild cinematography, which annoys many critics, but it is something that I adore. But on this film, there admittedly have been sequences that are completely unnecessary. I hated the needless addition of crash scenes, primarily because it just lessens the dramatic impact of a major car crash after it. By the time you get to that scene, the car crash does not shock you anymore because it comes off as a mere repetition of gratuitously violent scene.

Another thing that bothered me is the direction of the storyline as it nears the end. Things that really bothered me specifically were the decisions of the police in regards to how they engage the hostage-takers, a bit too over-restrained that they appear silly. Especially when you take into consideration how the hostage takers treat their hostages at the near end of the movie. It is in the third-half of the movie that the movie shows its weaker side. But it does not change the fact that this movie has some great acting in it. Overall, “Taking of Pelham 123” is thrilling and tense, not exactly a great movie, but there is a moderately good pay-off of satisfaction.

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