Review: [In Memory of Tony Scott 1944-2012] THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (2009) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Review: [In Memory of Tony Scott 1944-2012] THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (2009)


Joseph Sargent's 1974 original version of the same name was a classic hostage thriller that blessed with Peter Stone's smartly-constructed script filled with authentic New York street vibe, rich characters and an often gripping, race-against-the-clock suspenseful aura. In this bigger-budgeted and glossy re-imagining version, Tony Scott's brash take of that classic material is, not surprisingly, pales by comparison. Gone are the gritty vibe that characterized the original version all the more realistic feeling. Gone also are the brilliant quirkiness that gave the original the extra edge in the first place. Here, everything is replaced with flash-over-substance and likewise, Tony Scott goes overboard as he abuses his trademark of fancy visual tricks cranking up to the eleven.

The plot, in the meantime, remains much of the same with only minor tweaks: A tattooed, skull cap-wearing criminal who goes by a mere name of Ryder (John Travolta) overtakes a New York City subway car, a particular Pelham 123, and holds the passengers and motorman hostage in one of the underground tunnels. Within a short time of period, he and his three accomplices which consisted of Phil Ramos (Luis Guzman), Bashkim (Victor Gojcaj) and Emri (Robert Vataj), making their demands very clear to a midtown rail center dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington): ten million dollars within the next hour, or a civilian will be shot to death for every minute the money fails to be delivered in time. The time is ticking fast as the race is on, for Garber to locate the mayor (James Gandolfini) for pulling that huge amount of money within the given time. Not long after, the hostage takeover at the Pelham 123 becomes front-and-center breaking news all over New York City. A professional hostage negotiator named Camonetti (John Turturro) is brought over, in attempt to negotiate a deal with Ryder but unfortunately Ryder is hardly a pushover. Ryder kills a civilian for the result of Camonetti trying to outsmart him, and specifically wants nobody else but Garber to be on the radio contact at all time until the money is delivered.

Brian Helgeland's screenplay devoids most of the distinctive personalities that Stone has previously written exceptionally well. Although Helgeland does make some effort to heighten the dramatic moment by inserting both Garber and Ryder's murky past, which is notably missing in the original but it's especially pity to see Tony Scott almost ruins everything by throwing whatever visual excesses he can think of.

Adding further insult is Tobias Schliessler's flamboyant cinematography that relies heavily on tweaking the shutter speed which makes everything look slightly blurred, jerky and overexposed. Then there's the needless slow-motion moment, and the ever-annoying swirling cameraworks Scott seems to be enjoyed circling around the actors during the heated conversation. If that is the result he has been trying so hard to crank up the tense situation, he really does them mostly all for the wrong reasons.

There are also a couple of high-octane action sequences included here, including those pointless car chases that doesn't serve much purpose to the film other than seeing them more of a big excuse. Characters, in the meantime, are either too broad, underwritten (like that criminally underused Luis Guzman) or one-note.

But thankfully, there are few casts here manage to elevate the otherwise rotten material some necessary aura: Denzel Washington is perfectly restrained as the everyman trapped in desperate situation while trying to right the wrongs. He is very credible here, until that is, the final third act requires him to go overboard as he is unconvincingly transformed into an unlikely action hero trying to save the day by attempting to stop Ryder. John Travolta is slimy as always and he's really fun to watch for, whenever he pulls off a villainous role. It's just sad his over-the-top acting and his colorful profanities-ranting makes him more laughably bad than supposedly creepy.

If Tony Scott is smart enough to tune down his visual excesses, things could have been better. While those undemanding ones will find this movie a fun and energetic piece of entertainment, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 remains a huge, missed opportunity.

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