Movie Review: "The Taking Of Pelham 123"

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When the movie started with a remix of Jay-Z ‘s “99 Problems” I must say I was a little worried.  Instantly I could see the direction the filmmakers were going with the film, but fortunately it quickly calmed down.

“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” stars Denzel Washington as Walter Garber, a New York subway dispatcher who has recently been demoted due to a pending suspension. The action begins as Ryder, John Travolta, hijacks a subway train and its passengers.  Garber immediately finds himself stuck in the middle of the heist when he ends up dispatching the area Ryder has taken control.

Both of these characters are very three dimensional while having a lot in common. The two relate simply by the fact they have been ‘screwed’ by the system and are trying to overcome their mishaps.  They quickly begin to toy and pick with one another in order to make the other break while on the radio. With no surprise, Denzel’s character plays the negotiator in this film but with some differences from characters past.

Garber is just your ordinary city guy trying to support his wife and kids, but has seemingly got himself into trouble recently. He is a bit shyer than Denzel’s past protagonist roles and yet he is still a powerful man with a good head on his shoulders just trying to make good. His character is trying to make amends with his past by saving the passengers on board and taking care of the situation. There is much emotion as Garber is sent home when the real negotiator arrives even after wanting to stay, but is quickly returned to his desk when Ryder asks to talk to him and only him.

Travolta is brilliant as Ryder. He really brought another dimension to his character. This is apparent by his great showcase of odd choices of emotions when he dealt with death or fear. It’s not like this that different to some of Travolta’s past roles. For instance, his character in FACE OFF has many similarities, but this one is not nearly as sick and twisted.  His motives are different and justified by a great screenplay by Briand Helgeland.

One of the main storylines is the reaction a normal city guy like Garber would have when he comes faced with an insane killer. “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” also asks how far a typical guy will go to make amends. Garber is not necessarily dealing with amends with his job, but with himself as well. He isn’t supposed to have dealt with matters like this before, however it is a little unbelievable due to how smooth he deals with the situation. Let’s face it, Denzel is the negotiator and it feels like it too. It when the movie gets about half way through that things start to get a lot better.

After the half way mark, you start to understand Denzel’s character a little more. In fact, it takes until half way through the film to feel any difference in the movie from any other conventional heist movie. I was looking for what would stand out from this movie, or why it was even made. It appeared that it was just like any other one of these types of films. The relationship formed between the protagonist and the antagonist are what really set the movie apart.

I noticed myself starting to care much more about the characters and leaning towards the edge of my seat once the action started to pick up. The pace quickly picked up to make this really what the film set out to be; a suspenseful drama. It delivered, and it delivered with some force!

Sure it was Tony Scott’s kinetic, shaky camera style that helped add to the action.  At points it felt that it was a little too much, but it soon becomes unnoticeable as the audience becomes more involved with the plot rather the execution.  His style was to help the film to appear more contemporary and fresh. Ironically this is not a fresh take on action movies and has become a major negative selling point to recent movies.  Besides the cinematography, the action is still well done at appropriate areas to keep the film moving along while keep it interesting as well.

This cast really supplied some additional help. Ryder’s posse includes Luis Guzman (“Waiting”), who adds some comedic light to some suspenseful scenes and plays the brains to the subway system.  James Gandolfini plays the self-centered, unpopular mayor of New York. Michael Rispoli plays the head of NYC Trasit’s Rail Control Center. Finally, John Turturro does a magnificent job as the hostage negotiator that comes in to help.

“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is basically your average story of a crazy killer that takes hostages for money.  It is the depth of the characters and relationships between them that sets this apart from others. It has plenty of suspense and great action that we expect along with some excellent performances. I believe the audience will actually take away something from this film as the moral of the story is strong. If you are in the mood for a quality, fun action/suspense drama then I suggest seeing this film.

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