Movie Reviews this week looks at the suspense thriller The Taking of Pelham 123. It stars Denzel Washington (Training day) as Walter Garber, as he puts it a “lowly public sector employee” looking after the trains that run through the intersections at New York, except this day he didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he puts his socks on this morning.
It also stars John Travolta (Pulp fiction) as Ryder , straight out of prison and looking to for some kind of revenge on the City of New York. He and his accomplices Phil Ramos played by Luis Guzman (Traffic) and Bashkim played by Victor Gojcaj manage to hijack Pelham 123, so called because it arrives at Pelham at precisely 1:23 p.m. As Walter’s job this day is operating the trains (it turns out he has been demoted penning an investigation if he took a bribe) so it is left to Walter to bargain with Ryder for the lives of the several passengers on board, while Ryder asks the City of New York via it’s mayor placed pretty well by James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), it turns out Ryder wants $10 million dollars and one cent after making Walter calculate what the current rate is for the “commodities” on the train, Ryder says he wants $10 million dollars, Walter sarcastically asks him about the one cent, and he says Walter can keep it as a broker’s fee.
In comes a special Hostage Negotiator Camonetti played by John Turturro (You don’t mess with the Zohan), there is a particular well made scene, where Walter is told he has done a good job, while Camonetti takes over negotiating with Ryder, that leads to some disastrous consequences.
Walter is chased and brought back to negotiating per Ryder’s request and as the two get to know a little about each other, Ryder asks why he is doing control work for the trains, Walter explains he has been demoted pending an investigation, what follows is a brilliantly shot scene, where Walter is made to confess in front of the Mayor, his boss, and all his colleagues that he did take the bribe, how he did it and what he used the money for, or else hostages would be killed, at first the audience is not sure if the confession was on the spur of the moment to save lives, but from Walter’s expression it seems genuine.
The Taking of Pelham 123 is a slick, reimagining of the 1974 original that is filled to the brim with suspense, action and the one thing that is missing from many big budget spectacles, good old fashioned character development. Director Tony Scott has crafted a tension filled thriller with both John movies 123 Travolta and Denzel Washington sharing a chemistry that propels the film to its rocketing conclusion.
Scott wastes no time on set up; Travolta hijacks the train before the beginning credits are done rolling and the film continues at a breathless pace until the satisfying conclusion. The plot goes basically like this; Travolta’s Ryder (his alias) hijacks the Pelham 123 at 2:13 PM and demands a ransom of $10 million dollars be delivered to him within an hour or else he will start killing off hostages. Ryder refuses to speak with the police and Washington as train dispatcher Walter Garber is forced to serve as negotiator. Scott keeps the film at high suspense and brings a kinetic feel to the action sequences and chase scenes that will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Writer Brian Helgeland best known for L.A. Confidential, has written an intelligent script with great dialogue, that is fast paced and exciting all the while developing the characters way beyond what could’ve been the stereotypical psycho versus the reluctant hero.
Denzel Washington is terrific as everyman Walter Garber bringing gravity and a quiet dignity to his performance, keeping Walter grounded in reality, never once allowing the character to slip into clichéd action hero mode. Garber is the heart and soul of the film and you will find yourself pulling for him from the very first time Washington opens his mouth to the very last scene of the film. Washington is an amazing actor at the top of his craft and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
What can you say about John Travolta? The man plays terrific psychos and his performance in Pelham 123 is no exception to the rule. With his handle bar mustache, neck tattoo and menacing glare, he is one badass you don’t want to mess with. He puts a delightful psycho spin on every line of dialogue and is gleeful in his madness. I’ve always liked Travolta as a villain, but in films like Face/Off and Broken Arrow, he goes over the top with his performances. That is not the case here. Travolta masterfully takes the character right to the brink, but never crosses the line. Travolta gives a truly chilling and riveting performance that you won’t want to end.
The supporting cast all give superb performances as well, especially John Turturro and James Gandolfini. Turturro plays a hostage negotiator for the NYPD and although he is forced to take second chair to Washington’s Garber, Turturro never once allows the character to become a clichéd pain in the ass, egomaniac. Instead he infuses the character with a humanity that makes him endearing and real and helps keep the film grounded. James Gandolfini plays the fictional mayor of New York as a combination of Mike Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani and pulls it off fabulously. Gandolfini gives the mayor a quiet strength while also giving him a no nonsense attitude that is quite fitting for the Big Apple.
To sum it up, The Taking of Pelham 123 is an electrifying thrill ride that is made even better by the shared chemistry and the power-house acting of Washington and Travolta. Pelham 123 is one ride that shouldn’t be missed.