The Taking of Pelham 123
Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta
Directed by: Tony Scott
There are so many jokes that could be made about a movie that’s a remake of a remake of a film adaptation of a book. To say that the 2009 version of The Taking of Pelham 123 was an unnecessary film is an understatement. The movie is not all that good. Denzel Washington isn’t all that good in the movie. The script isn’t all that good. Essentially (and surprisingly), John Travolta seems to be the only good thing about the movie. Maybe it’s because director Tony Scott and Washington have worked with each other on a couple of other projects that they were both blind to see that the Walter Garber character was not played strong enough to make the movie any good. Then again, Scott has a certain way of making films that tend to be an acquired taste to the average person.
Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) thinks it’s just going to be another day at the office. He works for the New York City Transit Authority making sure the subway trains run on time. It seems like another average day until he notices a problem with Pelham 123. It has stopped in its tracks. Garber’s day begins to turn upside down when he finds out that a man named Ryder (John Travolta) has taken over the subway car and is holding the passengers hostage for a $10 million ransom. Ryder insists that he doesn’t want to talk to hostage negotiators; he only wants to talk to Garber. Ryder realizes that Garber is a flawed individual who’s in trouble himself with possible fraud charges that’s jeopardizing his job. Ryder begins to think that the only way he can have an advantage in the situation is through the emotionally drained Carver. Things hit a breaking point when Ryder demands that Carver deliver the ransom money himself.
The title role belongs to Washington who seems to be phoning it in most of the time. He treats the Garber character like a sad sack. There seems to be no emotional fire burning in Garber. While you could argue that considering that Garber’s career is in professional jeopardy, he would be emotionally detached from the world. However, considering the gravity and severity of the situation, you would think that Garber would care more. Sure, Washington has him getting angry but it feels more like he’s not all that mad and is just doing a lot of frowning and yelling. It doesn’t feel like Washington was trying too hard and was just going through the motions.
Surprisingly enough, Travolta is fantastic. It’s not surprising that Travolta turned in a good performance because he is a competent actor but he really does almost carry the film. He plays the part of Ryder with such emotional intensity that even though Ryder is carrying out a terrorist act, it’s hard not to like the guy. Considering that Garber is a dud of a character and Ryder seems to have some principles and doesn’t beat around the bush, he becomes sort of likeable in the tortured soul kind of way. This, of course, is backwards and shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t be cheering for the bad guy who’s threatening to kill a subway car full of hostages. It’s not Travolta’s fault that he played Ryder too well; it’s Scott’s fault for not making sure that everyone else was performing as well as Travolta.
Then again, this is Scott’s usual problem. He’s done several films with Denzel Washington and has hardly challenged him in his roles. Man on Fire and Déjà Vu were lame movies that did not use Washington to all his strengths. Washington is one of the best actors in Hollywood and has won several Academy Awards for his performances. This was far from an Academy Award winning performance. Scott likes to employ a lot of fancy camera techniques and styles that tend to overshadow the story and alter the mood of the movie that sometimes makes it feel unnatural. If Scott worried less about the style of his movies and did more to provoke Washington to pull out all the stops, they wouldn’t have made three sub-par movies together.
The ending is also a bone of contention with this film. It’s very unsatisfying. It doesn’t feel like a good ending or a bad one, it just ends. It feels almost like the scenario had written itself into a corner and they were grasping for straws for an ending. However, the weak ending didn’t hurt the film as the film as a whole seems haphazardly written for around ninety percent of it and then they tried to sew everything together to end it. It doesn’t work but, by then, it’s hard to care either way.
Tony Scott should stop directing or at least Denzel Washington should stop working with him. John Travolta does a marvellous job as Ryder and creating a dialogue with Washington’s Carver. The constant comparison between the two and the frequent references to their similarities despite the two men being on opposing sides make the film interesting enough that it is somewhat tolerable to watch. It’s just a shame that considering with all the acting talent that is there they had trouble making a half-decent movie. If The Taking of Pelham 123 on cable and there is nothing else on and you can’t find your reading glasses to read a book and you’ve already clipped your toenails for the week, give this movie a go. If you have anything better to do, it’s an easy movie to miss.