The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr 35 min.

Release Date: June 12th, 2009 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tony Scott Actors: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Luis Guzman, John Turturro




hough director Tony Scott’s uniquely frenetic editing has been toned down since his previous films, his unmistakable style still frequents the action and accentuates the tension-filled premise. Denzel Washington’s quick-witted and moderately corrupt dispatcher plays off of John Travolta’s Wall Street-savvy sociopath with plenty of clever exchanges. And the dark humor and suspense that find their way into the bloodshed culminates in an engaging game of cat and mouse. Not quite as slick as the original, and perhaps a little too conspicuous in its efforts to exude coolness, this latest take on the subway heist story still accomplishes entertainment at breakneck speed.

When a New York City subway train is hijacked, Rail Control Center dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) becomes an unwitting negotiator for the ruthless criminals aboard. Led by the uncontainable Ryder (John Travolta), the hijackers demand ten million dollars in exchange for the seventeen hostages – and offer only one hour in which to deliver the ransom. As minutes quickly count down, Garber must utilize his cunning and resourcefulness to buy time and catch the mercenary off guard as the situation goes from bad to catastrophic.

The unusual, highly stylized, frenzied editing is assuredly a now permanent technique for Tony Scott films. It’s a signature method that he ceaselessly experiments with, frequently going overboard, and only occasionally able to harness effectively. In “The Taking of Pelham 123,” it looks familiar, but doesn’t detract from the story, even if some moments of suspense are dulled by the blurred colors of slow-motion and missing frames. Other stunt-filled sequences are exciting and tense, but hardly necessary. The car chases are never about catching someone, but rather just beating the clock. It’s action for action’s sake, and while enjoyably destructive, it’s entirely apparent.

Most audiences will not know that “The Taking of Pelham 123” is based on a John Godey novel, or that it’s been adapted into a movie twice before with the same name. While Scott’s version stands on its own as a big-budget action movie, the purpose of specifically remaking this story is puzzling. Shouldn’t the reasoning behind the revisiting of a popular plot be to improve upon some outstanding aspect? The use of the internet, cell phones, snipers, bloodshed, crude language, and more give this new vision a sparklingly modernized feel, but when the movie draws to a close, it just can’t compete with the 1974 contemporary classic version. Washington and Travolta have an intriguing chemistry, but even that can’t outdo the cat-and-mouse mindgames between Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, who played their counterparts in the first feature adaptation. Perhaps a title change could have appropriately distanced Scott’s take from being endlessly compared to an infinitely superior film.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10