Reviews

The Taking of Pelham 123

Money makes The Taking of Pelham 123 shine, but no amount of cash can buy creativity.


The Taking of Pelham 123

Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini
Length: 121 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Year: 2009
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating: R
UK Release Date: 2010-01-11
US Release Date: 2009-11-03
Website

You get what you pay for, or in the case of Tony Scott’s quick-cutting remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, you get a little less. With a reported budget of $100 million, investors obviously weren’t afraid to put a little extra dough into remaking what was (and remains) a pretty standard thriller.

John Travolta and Denzel Washington, whose considerable salaries assuredly took up at least a third of the aforementioned budget, star as hostage-taker and negotiator, respectively. Ryder (Travolta), angry and balding, has taken over a New York City subway car and is holding its occupants hostage for $10 million. Garber (Washington), subdued and graying, is his chosen negotiator simply because he’s not a cop and Ryder occasionally enjoys talking to him. The two trade threats, demands, and deals until the climactic showdown when the two inevitably come face to face.

If the setup is familiar, the execution is just as habitual. Scott again uses his frenetic, fast-editing technique with varying success. Most of the film is made up of two settings: the MTA subway headquarters and the hijacked train car. But this does not deter Scott from employing his now trademark fast-pans paired with multiple cuts. Whether Garber is chatting about metro specs or Ryder is about to shoot a hostage, the method does not change.

Though it does help distract the audience from realizing nothing really happens during the second act, the technique overstays its welcome. By the end of the film’s 121 minutes, it’s quite clear that Scott needs a new genre to force him into trying something different (perhaps a shot longer than three seconds?) with his camera.

This brings us to another problem: the film has nothing new to say. A remake should bring to light cultural changes since the original’s debut or force us to reflect on our failure to bring about needed changes. Neither is shown here.

Pelham’s few intriguing elements can’t be as fleshed out fully without risking the conventional hostage narrative. For instance, James Gandolfini plays the mayor of New York who doesn’t immediately seem to care too much about the 17 hostages held at gunpoint because he’s not up for reelection (he plans to run for president, instead). For a brief moment, it appears the film will exist to depict how, why, and when a government head values his or her constituents. What if the mayor did nothing to help hostages in his own city? Now there’s a movie worth seeing.

Also more appealing than the final product are the film’s brief deliberations on New York City itself. Every 20 minutes or so, a character will remark about the importance of the city or tell the audience something they may not have known before, specifically about the subway and its occupants. There is a brief exchange between passengers about forming a plan to escape, and an ongoing discussion between boyfriend and girlfriend via webcam, but other than these tidbits, the audience never comes to know the people at risk throughout the film.

These people represent New Yorkers. They should be the same New Yorkers we hear mentioned with an air of bravado and pride around the words, not anonymity. At one point, Ryder asks, “These tunnels don’t change much, do they,” and Garber responds “Just the people in them.” This, however, begs the more pertinent question, “Why don’t we get to understand them?”

It could be argued Scott was merely pressed for time and gave preference to the actors with the big paychecks, but one other oversight carries with it no such excuse. The underground setting is fascinating, full of possibilities, and all but ignored.

The single-disc DVD offering even goes so far as to include a 16-minute documentary on the film’s use of the real New York subways. Travolta and Washington discuss how they used to ride the rail daily to get to auditions. Conductors and technicians explain the risks of working with such immense amounts of energy. Though it’s not exactly a festival-level doc, it does spark a few ideas of how the film could have been altered just enough to incorporate the subway as a character rather than just a smart setting.

The disc also includes a 30-minute making-of documentary which is as by-the-book as the film, an odd segment on Tony Scott’s preferred hair stylist who apparently thinks short hair helps actors represent real people, and a so-called marketing feature which is really just seven minutes of the film’s promotional trailers. Despite being less than substantive, the sheer number of bonus features make The Taking of Pelham 123 appear to be a blockbuster film, an idea the filmmakers definitely wanted to promote.

From the high budget and star power to the sleek cinematography and numerous cuts, Pelham has all the shimmer and shine of an old Hollywood action powerhouse. There’s little CGI and lots of chases. While all of this works adequately, there just isn’t enough new material here to warrant what money can’t buy – a recommendation.

5

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Chary’s 15 minutes may be a little too pop to be post-punk, a little too post-punk to be pop, but the satisfaction gained therein cuts deeper and more succinctly than many of 2017’s full-lengths.

The word “chary" may be a substitute for “cautious", but Courtship Ritual's new EP of the same title is anything but. The one-two sass attack of “Down Low" and “Blunt as Naive" makes this much clear from the start. This pair of songs serves as the perfect, attention-getting opener for Chary's nuanced five-song ride.

Keep reading... Show less
7

With The Perfect Nothing Catalog, composer Conrad Winslow explores attention and arrangement with assistance from the Cadillac Moon Ensemble and Aaron Roche.

The album cover, in a way, tells you everything. It's simple: a cardboard box with two pieces of tape: one from the box's original packing, the other haphazardly slapped on. They imply two separate states–ordering and reordering, original state and redefined context. The Perfect Nothing Catalog, the debut recording from Alaska-born, Brooklyn-based composer Conrad Winslow, invokes this very idea of objects and ideas placed, shuffled, and replaced, provoking questions of how arrangement shapes meaning.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image