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  Publicity Stills of
"The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3"
(Courtesy of Columbia TriStar)

Genre: Action/Thriller/Crime
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, Michael Rispoli, James Gandolfini
RunTime: 1 hr 45 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: NC-16 (Coarse Language and Violence)
Official Website: http://www.catchthetrain.com/

Opening Day: 11 June 2009


In "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," Denzel Washington stars as New York City subway dispatcher Walter Garber, whose ordinary day is thrown into chaos by an audacious crime: the hijacking of a subway train. John Travolta stars as Ryder, the criminal mastermind who, as leader of a highly-armed gang of four, threatens to execute the train's passengers unless a large ransom is paid within one hour. As the tension mounts beneath his feet, Garber employs his vast knowledge of the subway system in a battle to outwit Ryder and save the hostages. But there's one riddle Garber can't solve: even if the thieves get the money, how can they possibly escape?

Movie Review:

Tony’s Scott remake of the classic 1974 Walter Matthau-Robert Shaw heist thriller is one express train ride of thrill after thrill. Wasting no time in setting up the action, Scott thrusts you right into the heat of things when subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) finds himself in a cagey battle of wits against angry and volatile criminal mastermind Ryder (John Travolta).

Ryder has taken 17 passengers on board a subway car hostage and demands the city’s Mayor (James Gandolfini) pay him US$10 million for their release. An hour later is the deadline- although in one of the script’s witty quips, Garber says he’d much prefer it to be Thursday when Ryder asks him to suggest when would be a good time- with Ryder threatening to kill a passenger for each minute past the limit.

Scott uses that hour of waiting to ratchet up the tension between Garber and Ryder- one the menacing psychopath who has a grudge against the City; and the other a lowly New York City Transit employee turned hostage negotiator unwittingly involved in the former’s siege. Their tense interplay is what made the John Godey novel and Matthau-Shaw original so compelling and here Scott skilfully preserves their taut and exciting exchange.

But what elevates this remake above just a rehash is Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland’s smart additions to the original script. More than just issuing threats and demands, Ryder takes a liking to Garber’s average Joe, even to the extent of calling him “probably the last friend I’ll ever have”. Helgeland cleverly plays up the similarities between the two characters- both victims of a cruel bureaucracy (the “City” as Ryder calls it) that has scant regard for its consequences on personal lives.

Thanks to the social drama, what could have been a standard-issue thriller becomes a character-driven piece that saves its key characters Garber and Ryder from stereotypes. Just like Ryder, Garber is a flawed man- though admittedly in a different manner. But amidst his imperfection, Garber is called to rise up to the extraordinary circumstances of the occasion, to be the hero that we all hope we will be when the situation arises.

And as a mark of the A-list star that he is, Denzel Washington captures the regular, nondescript workingman role of Garber with aplomb. The character is easily one of his most low-key and subdued- gone are his usual trademark swaggers and brazen arrogance-with Washington piling on the pounds to play the pudgy, bespectacled Everyman hero. His fourth collaboration with director Scott, Washington imbues his portrait of Garber with a dignity and courage that is inspiring just to watch.

Washington’s restrained performance is also a perfect foil against Travolta’s gleefully menacing Ryder. Though Travolta’s at times over-the-top acting borders on caricature, he still manages to nail it down with a persuasively intimidating portrayal of a rage-filled white-collar criminal smarter than one would expect him to be. If anything, this is undoubtedly his best bad-guy role, way better than say Swordfish (2001) or The Punisher (2004).

Just as terrific is the supporting cast of John Turturro as the NYPD hostage negotiator forced to stand aside because one, Ryder wants to deal only with Garber and two, Ryder thinks nothing more of him than a “grease-ball”; and James Gandolfini as the city’s Bloomberg-esque Mayor who reminds you who he’s like with a funny no-I’m-not-Giulani-joke.

Once again, Scott has proved that his collaborations with leading-man Washington remain his most watchable. Washington and Travolta are also perfectly matched, and their pairing more than matches up to the original’s Matthau and Shaw. This is a hostage thriller effectively mounted and efficiently executed, thanks to Scott’s sure hand at action and an A-list cast that delivers compelling performances.

Movie Rating:

(Breathlessly exciting heist thriller packed with powerhouse acting from A-list stars Washington and Travolta)

Review by Gabriel Chong


. The International (2009)

. Vantage Point (2008)

. Shoot 'Em Up (2007)

. Eastern Promises (2007)

. Inside Man (2006)

. Deja Vu (2006)

. Man On Fire (2004)


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