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The Taking of Pelham 123 - Review

The Taking of Pelham 123

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE fourth collaboration between Tony Scott and Denzel Washington is arguably their weakest yet… but that shouldn’t deter you from seeing it.

The Taking of Pelham 123 is a flawed but still enjoyable movie that boasts a fascinating battle of wits between Washington and John Travolta, as well as strong support from the likes of James Gandolfini and John Turturro.

A remake of Joseph Sargent’s 1974 classic, which starred Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, the film picks up as a man named Ryder (Travolta) hijacks a New York Subway train and holds the passengers hostage while demanding a ransom from the city.

Liaising with him, meanwhile, is disgraced public transportation manager Walter Garber (Washington) who must attempt to broker a deal while searching for an opportunity to outwit his opponent.

Scott’s film puts a contemporary spin on Sargent’s original and fleshes out its two central characters, but the dynamic still works the same. It’s essentially a tense two-hander that stands or falls on the believability of its leading men.

Fortunately, both Washington and Travolta make worthy adversaries, with the former, in particular, piling on some extra weight to play a more believable everyman than normal. His Garber is a troubled soul who is believably burdened by a possibly shady past and a lack of experience for the situation he finds himself in.

Travolta, meanwhile, exudes unpredictable volatility as Ryder, summarily shooting hostages as a means to an end, and toying with Garber at every opportunity. It makes a refreshing change to have a villain who is prepared to carry out his threats and lends the first two thirds of the film a genuine sense of unease.

Unfortunately, the film derails once Ryder disembarks the train and Scott reverts to more standard chase formula. The payoff doesn’t reward viewers with the type of climax they may have been anticipating and may leave them feel underwhelmed.

That said, there’s still plenty more to enjoy along the way, with colourful – if under-used – support from Gandolfini and Turturro, excellent use of the New York setting and a rousing race-against-time chase midway through.

Scott’s trademark energy reverberates throughout providing viewers with a fun, if lightweight, cat-and-mouse thriller that’s enlivened considerably by its first-rate cast.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 109mins
UK Release Date: July 31, 2009