2009 saw Tony Scott become the latest person to adapt John Godey’s novel after the excellent 1974 version and a TV movie that was released in 1998. In this latest version, John Travolta’s Ryder leads a gang of hijackers and takes a number of hostages on a New York subway train. He demands $10 million within an hour to guarantee their safe release.
When contacting the dispatch department of the transit authority, he gets through to recently demoted supervisor Walt Garber played by Denzel Washington, who is subsequently the only person Ryder will talk to. What follows is a race against time to ensure Ryder’s demands are met and the hostages are released safely.
I watched the 70s version of The Taking Of Pelham 123, when I was in my early teens, on a recommendation from my dad when I was looking to kill an afternoon with a couple of movies. He suggested I watched Pelham and Dog Day Afternoon, which turned out to be quite a double bill. Especially as it was my first exposure to either film. So, needless to say, I have fond memories of the first film, which lead to me being a little sceptical when I learned there was to be a remake. Still, I decided to check it out at the cinema and was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think it was an amazing film, by any means, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. So I welcomed the opportunity to watch the film for a second time and review the DVD.
The film opens with numerous quick edits accompanied by a remix of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, which is a track that features numerous times throughout the film. Whilst this is a perfectly decent track, having this provide the musical leitmotif, alongside a score by Harry Gregson-Williams, is a poor replacement for David Shire’s excellent score in the original.
Tony Scott’s directorial style is something of an acquired taste and his use of quick cuts and other such gimmicks fail to match the sense of tension and suspense that was seen in the original. Some of the other gimmicks on display are truly laughable, prime examples being the use of maps to show the transportation and cutting back to the action with the noise of a subway horn. If the film had any intentions of being taken seriously, gimmicks like this hardly help matters.
However, it’s John Travolta’s pantomime villain that’s my biggest gripe with the movie. His OTT style and cringe worthy lines made it difficult for me to imagine him being the mastermind of a criminal scheme of the magnitude involved here. Especially when accompanied by such a by-the-numbers group of henchmen. Even the often excellent Luis Guzman fails to impress as one of Ryder’s accomplices.
Denzel Washington is excellent as Walt Garber, although this is little surprise given the consistently high quality of his performances. Even if some of his dialogue is a little bland and uninspired, he plays the role of everyman in a brilliant and understated way. James Gandolfini and John Turturro also put in decent performances in supporting roles.
Having watched this version for the second time, I’m still not convinced that this is a necessary remake. But, despite its numerous flaws, it’s still an entertaining movie and the 100-minute run time breezes by. But does it add to, or improve on, the original in anyway? The answer is, sadly, no.
I suppose one of the dangers of remaking a classic movie that’s held in such high regard is that if it fails to improve on the original, it faces levels of criticism that may not have been received had it been an original piece of work. Script and premise aside, there’s not a great deal about this movie that’s original, but it doesn’t stop this being a decent and reasonably entertaining thriller.
I’d hesitate to recommend this over the original, but it’s still worth a look if you’re at all curious.
There’s a fair selection of extras available here.There are two separate commentary tracks provided – one with director Tony Scott and another with writer Brian Helgeland and Producer Todd Black.
There’s also a feature that almost rivals CineChat, found on some Blu-ray discs, in the pointless extra stakes. The extra in question is called From The Top Down; Syilizing The Character and is on the film’s hair stylist. It opens with a silhouetted figure pulling shapes with scissors and goes in to great length on how important it was to have the right hair for the characters. Bravo if this is a joke. If not, then oh, dear.
There’s a section for trailers which doesn’t have any of the trailers for the film itself but an assortment of other features. Trailers for Pelham can be found in the extra called Marketing Pelham which is purely a collection of trailers. Sadly ,no comment on who they were trying to target with the trailers and their marketing strategy, which would have been infinitely more interesting. There’s also a making of entitled No Time To Lose and a feature on the New York Underground.
The Taking Of Pelham 123 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.