The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) Poster

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So-so thriller but swooshing cameras do not cover for lack of spark and tension in the material
bob the moo22 November 2009
It has been the best part of a decade since I saw the original film version of this story but I still remember it being pretty enjoyable with a dark edge of comedy. From the opening seconds of the remake it is clear that the focus here is going to be on the action. Jay-Z's 99 Problems kicks things off while the camera swooshes and zooms round as all the main players move into position – within minutes subway car Pelham 123 has been taken and a race to save the hostages begins. The rest of the film is meant to be exciting and tense and we know this because the camera is constantly swooshing and throwing in slow-motion bits here and there to let us know that the stakes are high, lives are on the line and that we should all be tense.

Sadly, while the cinematographer is keen to make sure we know this, nobody else seems that bothered because the film does nothing to justify the sweeping camera movements and pumping soundtrack. In terms of physical "money up there on the screen" action, there is very little and what there is just seems thrown in for the sake of having some action (the car crashes trying to get the money in on time) rather than being part of the film. This in itself is not a problem by any means, because the nature of the plot did always suggest that the spark would be in the dialogue and the interplay between the two stars. Sadly this is lacking as well. It isn't "bad" though, but it just lacks spark, impact and tension. The problem is mainly with the script but director Scott doesn't seem to know what to do with it all anyway and seems desperate for characters to get shot or for things to crash into something just for the sake of having action. Travolta appears to be happy just to ham it up with a simplistic performance that matches the basic feel of the film. Washington had the harder job and suggests he could have done it with better material and direction – instead he is thrown into forced dialogue and unlikely semi-action sequences towards the end. The supporting cast is pretty good through with a handful of HBO faces in there (Sopranos' Gandolfini, Generation Kill's Kelly and The Wire's Akinnagbe). Gandolfini, Guzman and Turturro all do the good work you would expect from them, although again all are limited by the material.

It is not an awful film, so if you are looking for a glossy but basic thriller with stars and a big budget then this will just about be good enough to pass the time. The lack of spark and tension is the killer though and this the film cannot compensate for no matter how many time the camera swooshes around or the editor makes quick cuts – the failure is deeper than that and nobody appeared to be able to address it to make this film better than it was.
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two solid leads but the results are underwhelming
Special-K8813 June 2009
It started like any ordinary day; that's likely what N.Y.C. subway dispatcher Walter Garber, an employee of questionable character, was thinking when he got up and went to work in the morning. Little did he know that he'd become the confidant and 'stand-in' hostage negotiator for a prickly criminal mastermind who takes over the Pelham subway train and demands money in exchange for the lives of its passengers. Hearing the names Washington, Travolta, and Scott creates a lot of anticipation, but unfortunately what wants to be a slick combination of suspense thriller and character study instead results in a ponderous film with a weak setup, predictable plot twists, shallow characters, and little tension. It's easy to watch with actors of Washington and Travolta's caliber at work, but Scott's direction is pretentious and throws out some obligatory action scenes that seem to exist for the sole purpose of padding the time on the way to an expected climax. The leads do what they can with the strained material but really deserve better. **
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6/10
Decent entertainment, but doesn't hold a candle to the original
pacdm13 June 2009
I went to the this most recent remake of Pelham 1-2-3 (most don't even recall the made-for-TV version filmed in Toronto - with good reason) with an open mind. I was weened on Godey's book when 8, and saw the original film when it was released a few years later. I've committed practically every line and scene to memory. I'll admit.... I'm biased. I felt the original could not be successfully remade... the gritty feel, the outstanding David Shire soundtrack, the believable performances of the ensemble cast..... and I was right. I did not go into the theater hoping to hate the remake, but instead to like it. I REALLY wanted to like it. I have always enjoyed both Denzel Washington and John Travolta in their various endeavors and thought the chemistry might work fine here. While entertaining, it became almost tiresome after a while. I felt no tension, no "edge of the seat" sensation that the original brought, I found myself disliking most of the characters and really not caring what happened to them. It passed the time, had some thrills, but that was about it for me.

The '09 version is entertaining, with some excellent action scenes and more than a few decent dialog exchanges between characters, but it is nothing more than a Tony Scott action movie dressed up as "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3". While starting off liking Washington's character (now disgraced MTA administrator-turned dispatcher Walter Garber, as opposed to Detective Zachary Garber in the book and original screen incarnation), I found, as the movie progressed, that he went from believable to just another two-dimensional action movie hero who, if he was what as he really started out as being, would not have ended up doing what he did in the film. Sorry, no spoilers here gang. You'll have to go judge for yourselves.

Travolta was dynamic, putting in a great performance, but I found his manic characterization not befitting as the supposed master-mind of the criminal plot involved. Remarkably, there were three other hijackers in the movie. I don't know why Scott even bothered including them. They were not only ineffectual characters with lackluster performances, but totally lacked the dynamic presence and interplay between the hijackers of the original film so much so that you barely even noticed them - or cared. Oh well, I guess it would not have been practical with only one hijacker....

The dizzy camera-work and stylized production were tedious at times and distracting. The soundtrack was, IMHO pure garbage.

Like I said, I found it entertaining, but despite some opinions that the "updated" and "freshened" plot was exhilarating and an improvement on the '74 incarnation, I honestly don't think the Matthau/Shaw/Balsam version need worry about being eclipsed by this remake. Go see it though, as it is fun summer fare and if you have no ties to the original, you'll probably find it relevant. Afterward, do yourself a favor and rent the original. You'll see the way the story was meant to be done.
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4/10
Check Me
David Ferguson13 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Greetings again from the darkness. For some reason, I keep thinking director Tony Scott will re-capture his magic of "Crimson Tide". Instead, he thrives on being the center of attention, rather than letting the story and characters unfold on screen. How he mangles the great cat-and-mouse game of the original "Taking of Pelham One Two Three" is pure torture to watch.

In the original Walter Matthau and the icy cold Robert Shaw were brilliant. Here Travolta is way over-the-top with all his "MF'ers". Denzel, for all his greatness, is simply miscast as the nice, working class hero. In the original, NYC shots were gritty and real ... here they are Tony Scott disco complete with flying cars. Since when does a car collision send one of the vehicles soaring and somersaulting? And why does a skilled motorcycle cop ram right into a parked vehicle? Just a ridiculous action sequence.

Also in the original, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo and Earl Hindman (Wilson from Home Improvement) were Shaw's team and each had their own personality. Here Luis Guzman is given little to do and I couldn't pick the other two out of a line-up after just watching the film! John Tuturro and James Gandolfini are the only others with much to say. Gandolfini is a nice combo of Giuliani and Bloomberg, and provides at least a touch of humor. The story is expanded from a pure heist film to a bit of distorted revenge by Travolta, a disgraced Wall Street stud.

Just not much good to say about this one since I don't believe it stands on its own and it certainly can't hold a candle to the original.
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4/10
Forced action scenes and nonsense script ruin what could have been a good thriller
funero27 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS! This film started out good, but it soon became clear that the director (Tony Scott) and the source material had a bit of a falling out somewhere along the way.

The story was obviously meant to be a sort of a low-key thriller, where most of the action takes place on a psychological level, in the interaction between the hostage taker (Travolta) and a hapless train operator (Washington) who happened to be on the shift when the takeover took place. And at times, it is exactly that. The scenes where Travolta forces a confession out of Washington and offers hostages in exchange for the mayor (the Soprano guy) were great. This is where the movie shines, where it's the way it was meant to be.

However, Scott apparently thought this tension-filled psychological mind-game would be too high-brow for the average consumer. So he decided he must do everything in his power to make the sucker more EXTREME, you know, the way modern kids like it. And how in the would would a prolific Hollywood director like Tony Scott make a bunch of tension-filled conversations more exciting?

You've guessed it. This is yet another modern movie suffering from the infamous shaky camera syndrome. If you enjoy your POV flying loopdeloops around the room, shaky closeups of character faces and stop-motion intermezzos (and all that during an average dialog scene), you're in for a treat. A direction style normally reserved for action scenes was used to effectively detract the viewers' attention (and source of their tension) from the events inside the plot to the director outside it.

Scott obviously knew this, which is why he made sure the little action this movie has (and NEEDS) is as EXTREME as humanly possible. Thus, a simple matter of transporting two bags from point A to point B is turned into an idiotic and completely needles car chase, that destroys more property than there's money inside the bags. Then, there are Travolta's nameless henchmen, who are apparently there solely to die gruesome bloody (and EXTREME) deaths. And finally, there's the main bad guy himself, who isn't content to simply head-shot his helpless victims but must empty his entire clip into their jerking bodies, while droplets of blood and guts spray over the screaming hostages. EXTREME!

Really, if Tony Scott wanted to make an action movie, why he didn't just order an action script? It's not like he's some rookie who must film whatever is given to him.

Speaking of the script, forced action is hardly the only thing wrong with it. Throughout the movie, police snipers have hostage-takers in their sights and can end the crises in the moment they are ordered to shoot. But for some reason, no one gives the order, nor is anyone apparently in charge of giving it (where is the police captain coordinating the hostage negotiations and SWAT shooters)? What government would rather pay millions than try a rescue operation if there's even the slightest chance of success? And where's the FBI and SEALs taking over and icing Travolta in a minute?

On the other hand, why bother at all? Very soon, the police finds out identities and faces of everyone involved in the heist. With traffic cameras on every street corner and other assets of the 21st century law enforcement, the criminals are screwed, whether they escape the train or not. Doesn't Travolta know that? After becoming a YouTube legend, how long would it take someone to recognize his face and twitter him over to the police (LOL ITS THE SBWAY DUDE !1!!)?

Considering all this, you'd think the bad guys must have a really good reason for engaging in such a risky enterprise. And really, throughout the movie, Travolta makes it a point to portray his character as a desperate man living on the edge, staking his life in an all-or-nothing game against the might of the city that had let him down. Only later, we learn his entire scheme-within-the-scheme depended on him investing $2 million from an earlier robbery, so he could make hundred times as much on the market, when... wait, what!? He'd rather risk his life, kill a bunch of innocent people and spend the rest of his life in hiding, than retire with *just* two million!? That burning urge that drove him through his crazy scheme wasn't idealism or revenge or even the simple desire to get rich, but the desire to get even RICHER!? He must be the craziest, greediest, most idiotic millionaire on Earth. And a douche bag to boot.

These baffling inconsistencies in the plot make much more sense when we take in account this is a remake of a movie originally published in the early 70-ies. Back then, they didn't have the Internet, cameras and Nazis in charge of airports. The bad guy actually had a chance of getting away with his ingenious plan. The least script rewriters could have done was give Travolta and his men masks, or some other way of concealing their identities.

On the other hand, watching a pair of eyes talking into a radio for 90 minutes would have hardly made for an exciting film, so I guess I can see why they decided to sacrifice believability for the sake of character interaction. Now if only Scott would slow down the camera enough so we could actually see that interaction...

So, was there anything good about this movie? Surprisingly Travolta's acting. All the Scientology stuff aside, you can see why he was once considered an A-class star. Great job. Washington was very good too, you can really tell the panic taking a hold of his character when Travolta forces him to confess. As I mentioned earlier, radio dialogs between the two of them were truly the highlight of this movie.

Too bad the rest of it was sacrificed on the altar of blockbuster popcorn fun.
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1/10
A movie that goes off the tracks
JoeyGreen13 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Technical wizardry does not make for a good film. Mix in an annoying jazzy score, guitar riffs and some violin music, a couple of overrated actors, and you get TTOP123.

First off did Denzel do a reverse DeNiro and gain 50 pounds for this role? He looked like fat Albert "on a good day." Travolta, also sporting an earring or two -- what are these guys, two metrosexuals wanting to do each other? -- alternately drops f-bombs between ridiculous soliloquies about his tortured past and while plugging a hostage or two just to break the boredom. OK, he was reading bad lines, but he did not make for a believable villain, alternately scowling and laughing or otherwise mugging for the camera. Compare to the superb Robert Shaw, who played the character with calm menace that was 10 times as scary.

Plot holes? By the bushel. First off, there's Denzel's wife, in the middle of a tension-filled crisis in which blood is being spattered left and right, badgering her husband to bring home a gallon of milk. Could anything be more ridiculous? Maybe a producer promised the woman some more celluloid time on the casting couch, but the role was entirely superfluous and the 10-minute scene of the couple talking sweet nothings on a cellphone while bodies are dropping everywhere was one of the funniest I've ever seen.

Then there's Travolta, $300 million richer, thanks to his manipulation of the stock and commodity markets, worried about a paltry $2.5 million cut from the heist, weighing around 55 pounds, that he had to lug around at the end during his escape.

No disguise, easily identifiable, Travolta and the rest of the gang blithely stride through midtown Manhattan carrying big heavy satchels of cash, trying to hail cabs with thousands of people milling around and hundreds of cops. Travolta's character was about as stupid as you can get, riding and then walking in broad daylight, inviting easy capture. A more plausible ending would have had him stroll into the Waldorf, get a room and disguise himself until he could try to get away later, setting up a cat-and-mouse finish.

But there was no imagination, no humor, no intelligence, nothing whatsoever to justify making this movie other than its sole purpose: another big paycheck day for the two stars. Watching Gandolfini play mayor, I couldn't help thinking that if he was Tony Soprano, he would clip the entire cast, crew, director and production team and dump em all in the East River.

Save your money and rent the original.
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6/10
It started off so good... where did it go wrong?
Kristine17 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, from the minute I saw the trailer, this looked like it was going to be such an exciting thriller. We have two great actors in the leads: John Travolta and Dezel Washington. Where could you go wrong with that? So my boyfriend and I saw this movie a couple nights ago and had a great time. The movie was intense and provided very good action… BUT… there is a huge but… the film just fell flat at the end. The first and second act are extremely entertaining and beyond intense, two power house actors pulling in very decent performances, had great chemistry and did a good job with the script they were given. But what the heck was with the ending? We shift into this Action 101 book of clichés list and was a complete let down. As a movie, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is certainly entertaining, but when it comes to being realistic, yeah, it's pretty bad.

Four heavily armed men, led by a man who calls himself "Ryder," board a New York City subway 6 train, then proceed to take control of the train. Meanwhile, MTA dispatcher, Walter Garber, is assigned to the Rail Control Center due to an ongoing investigation that he took a bribe to recommend a Japanese car manufacturer for the next subway car contract. The group then uncouple the front car from the rest of the train and hold the passengers of that car hostage. Ryder and the hijackers settle down on the front car, demanding $10 million dollars in ransom money to be paid within the next 60 minutes. For each minute past the deadline, one passenger aboard his car will be killed. Garber and Ryder exchange conversations though the microphone, Garber agrees to have the city pay Ryder the $10 million ransom. Lt. Camonetti enters RCC, and Garber's boss, who has a rocky relationship with Garber, orders Garber to leave the premises. Camonetti takes over the hostage negotiations, infuriating Ryder who demands that Garber be put back on the mic and that he will speak only to Garber. Beginning a very award friendship as the clock ticks down to get the money for the hostages.

Over all I would recommend this for a matinée show or just a rental, it's nothing I would say to rush out and see. It's still a decent enough movie that I'm shocked John Travolta actually made a good choice in taking. He's a great villain when he wants to be and he proved that in Face/Off. Denzel also did a great job as this poor man who just coincidentally was having an average day and now all of a sudden has the added pressure of having lives depend on him. But like I said there are some major flaws that came with this film as well, there were unnecessary moments like what was with the kid and his computer? It had nothing really to do with the story and wasn't that vital. The nice army black man that jumped in front of the gun to protect the kid, the kid's mother talks to him before, but turned out to be unnecessary. Still as silly as these flaws are, it's still a fun movie to watch, I'm glad I checked it out.

6/10
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6/10
Travolta and Washington make it work
C-Younkin9 June 2009
"Taking of Pelham 123" was the movie that had it all. A great director in Tony Scott, screenwriter in Brian Helgeland (Man on Fire, LA Confidential), and leading men in Denzel Washington and John Travolta each doing what they do best. To its credit, Washington and Travolta keep it afloat. This is the kind of movie both can do in their sleep and watching them go one on one with each other is the film's main bright spot. Were also in for a pretty exciting ride as Tony Scott swings his camera around New York city streets and underground subway tunnels. Though this remake of the 1974 film starring Walter Mathau and Robert Shaw proves to be a little less than the sum of its parts.

Washington plays Walter Garber, the chief detective for the MTA currently involved in some controversy over a bribe he may or may not have taken. While that's being worked out, he's been reassigned to desk duty as dispatcher in the subway command center. Just today will be a day unlike any other as armed men hijack a New York City subway 6 train and hold all of its passengers hostage. The leader of the hi-jackers wishes to be called Ryder (John Travolta), and tells Walter that he wants 10 million dollars within an hour or he will start executing hostages. The cops (led by John Turturro) are brought in but Walter remains as the lead negotiator at Ryder's request.

Short on actual plot, I was expecting more of a character driven movie and early on it appears to go in that direction. There is a great scene where Ryder puts Walter on trial for the bribe and it leads you to think that these two are going to butt heads in dialogue-driven scenes all day long, exposing each other for who they really are. Just the battle of wits ends there, which is unfortunate cause the movie really crackles whenever they talk to each other. Travolta, sporting a menacing goatee and tattoo, is at his over-the-top, f-bomb-dropping, lunatic best and Washington is his level-headed, average-guy adversary.

The rest is all action. Car crashes and shoot-outs take place, the car crashes coming within a sloppy scene where the police travel by motorcade to deliver the money and the shoot-out starting from a rat crawling up a guy's leg of all things. Both feature no important characters and situations that are manipulated. The finale comes before you know it, a chase through the streets of NY that's more exciting because it makes more sense. And Tony Scott, despite using clichés like counting down the clock and going into slow-motion, keeps the movie gritty and fast-paced. As for the rest of the cast, James Gandolfini, playing a New York Mayor, is good comic relief, getting jokes about Giuliani, subways, and the Yankees but Turturro and Luis Guzman, playing a disgruntled MTA employee working with Ryder, don't get much to do.

"Pelham" works pretty well as a thriller because the Tony Scott-Denzel Washington teaming (this is their fourth go-around) always seems to do so and adding Travolta, always fun as a villain, is another nice touch. Just it doesn't always leave you engaged in what's happening, whether because the plot or the action lacks humanity. Still it's held together by good acting and solid direction and for that alone it's worth a ride.
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1/10
What the F*ck is wrong with the camera man???
Etta Veliksoky30 January 2010
OK, I HATE it when these directors go for the shaky, really annoying shots! I was sick from the start. This movie is so bad in many technical ways, I am from NY and I know the train system well, who are they kidding? There is a scene where the run away car is zipping by the old She Stadium in Queens and this is supposed to be the Bronx!! HA HA HA they used the 7 train line for many shots but when I saw the old Shea stadium in the background I lost it. In the final scenes where the hijackers leave the Waldorf Astoria Hotel they walk together and get caught???? there are thousands of people walking around park avenue everyday yet the idiot cops knew who they were??? gimme a break I am glad I only rent it from Netflix!
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2/10
A very poor remake
maddogrick2 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I was 27 years old when the original was produced but didn't see it at the time. In fact, I didn't have my first viewing of that fine thriller until a couple of years ago on TCM. I was engrossed. This film is a prime example of a remake that replaces plot and substance with technology and foul language to make its point.

Many other reviewers here have dealt with their criticisms in comparing the new version with the original. I will not. I can't improve upon them. However, consider this. Washington's character has just been the primary negotiator for the "good guys" in a tense hostage situation; has been virtually forced, for the good of others, to put his life in danger to deliver the ransom money to hijackers of a NYC subway train; at the end, in a kill or be killed scenario, he must shoot the ringleader(Travolta)of the bad guys. His background? A former train engineer who is promoted to a pencil pushing executive position.

Now tell me, wouldn't this be a situation where Washington's character might require some psychological debriefing for his own mental health? Not in this flick! Nope, he goes home dutifully with the gallon of milk his wife requested during the tense negotations with the hijackers! By the subway, of course! Immediately after his ordeal! Incredible... and that's what this movie is in the worst definition of the term.
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6/10
Flawed with the Usual Exaggerations
Claudio Carvalho20 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In New York, four criminals led by the smart Ryder (John Travolta) hijack the subway train Pelham 123, stopping the first car with nineteen hostages in a higher plane in the tunnel in Manhattan. Ryder calls the subway control center and the operator Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) talks to him. The abductor demands ten million dollar and gives one hour to the delivery by the City Hall. The Mayor (James Gandolfini) accepts to pay the ransom while the NYPD negotiator Camonetti (John Turturro) assumes the negotiation. However Ryder demands that Garber, who was demoted from an executive position due to the accusation of accepting kickback in the purchase business of Japanese trains, continues to be his liaison with the authorities. Within the tense hour, Ryder empathizes with Garber and asks him to bring the money to the train.

"The Taking of Pelham 123" could be a good movie, with a story with potential and great cast. Unfortunately it is spoiled due to flaws combined with the usual exaggerations of most of Hollywood action movies. There are terrible moments that really destroy the story, such as: (1) why the corrupt Garber would confess the true story of his bribery? He could have told a fantasy to satisfy Ryder and keep secret of his kickback. (2) Why the ransom was not transported by helicopter? (3)Why that imbecile girlfriend would insist on asking her boyfriend to say that he loves her in such a tense situation? (4) Even in an unusual day like that one, how could an investment be multiplied by 150 in a few hours? Two million dollars transformed in three hundred million dollar in less than two hours is simply ridiculous. (5) Why should Garber risk his life following Ryder? (6) Why should two criminals under siege of a large number of police officers and without any protection shoot their guns? (7) Garber had less than six minutes to reach the location to deliver the money and spends precious seconds talking nonsense with his wife. (8) Why would a cold blood killer like Ryder with three hundred million dollars to pay bribery pacifically surrender to Garber? I listed only some absurd and silly parts that insult the intelligence of any average viewer. Unfortunately I have not seen the original movie to make a comparison. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "O Sequestro do Metrô" ("The Hijack of the Subway Train")
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7/10
Washington offsets Travolta, producing entertainment
I was surprised to find this remake of the 1974 thriller was actually pretty good. I thought that, because it was a remake by an explosion-happy director (Tony Scott) and starred ultraham John Travolta, it couldn't possibly be all that interesting. Maybe a mild diversion, but those are a dime a dozen during the summer. But hey, big shock! It's actually pretty tense, with just enough twistiness to fascinate without seeming implausible.

Of course, the biggest reason the movie succeeds is Denzel Washington. Washington plays a disgraced (investigation pending) transit executive who's currently slumming as the control chief. On his shift, naturally, a 1:23 train out of Pelham (New York City) suddenly stops in the middle of its run, and a hijacker demands $10 million to be delivered in exactly one hour, or passengers start dying unnaturally.

What makes this a little more than your typical cat-and-mouse game is the undercurrent of what's gotten Washington character into hot water, as well as Travolta's character's actual motives. After all, he's just grabbed a subway full of hostages, but obviously he can't just ride the car to Cuba, or something. He has to have an escape plan.

Washington and Travolta play off each other very nicely, with Washington's flawless portrayal of a flawed man far more convincing than Travolta's garden-variety unhinged wacko. Essentially, Washington was good enough to counterbalance Travolta's overacting. (Is he crazy, or is he just cleverly acting crazy? Who cares?) Washington's Walter Garber is unsure of himself, an actual Everyman thrust into a madman's master plan. It's roles like these that separate Washington from people like, say, Tom Cruise, guys who can play really only one character, the Man Who Knows Everything. Walter Garber not only isn't a "seize the day" kind of person, he shies away from confrontations he knows he can't win.

Also worth noting are John Turturro (as a hostage negotiator displaced by Washington, since Travolta won't talk to anyone else) and James Gandolfini (as Hizzoner, finally playing a mayor who's not a complete nitwit). Gone is the whimsical naming convention from the first, in which Robert Shaw named his comrades after colors, which was swiped by Quentin Tarantino for Reservoir Dogs. There are some changes from the original, true, but they don't seem contrived; for example, Walter Matthau was a transit cop in the 1974 version, not some under-investigation suit.

The action is tense throughout, especially since you assume that the hijackers are going to have to murder someone at some point (otherwise, why have a deadline?) Somehow, the movie manages to be gripping and realistic without being over the top. There are some minor bouts of nonsense (did we really need to know that Garber needed to bring home a gallon of milk?), and maybe in the final 20 minutes or so it's a little by the numbers in its approach to action, but overall it's not bad at all. It's certainly a lot better than I'd expect a John Travolta movie to be, but maybe that's because he's the bad guy here, and they're practically expected to be over the top.
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7/10
A good, tense heist thriller
tvspace13 June 2009
A surprisingly enjoyable and tense thriller. While it does have a good bit of the kind of silly excess that ruins most summer blockbuster movies anymore, those flaws are overshadowed by the tightly-wound script and a couple of good performances from Denzel Washington and John Travolta. Director Tony Scott seems to have spent a good bit of effort trying to channel the spirit of 1970's American movies, and often this pays dividends as the focus on grittiness over spectacular action sequences ups the suspense. It's interesting that as the movie approaches the end you can feel the director's 21st century comic-book instincts straining against the genre he's working in as the story becomes increasingly less believable and more "heroic."

Nevertheless I can recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a suspenseful action movie that doesn't beat you over the head with histrionics from beginning to end. Admittedly I've never seen the original, and I can easily imagine those who love it might be substantially less enthusiastic about this remake.
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3/10
Utterly Pointless Remake of a Classic, Don't Bother With This
Jakealope15 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard to describe my contempt for this remake if you are not familiar with the original. First off, the original had a much realer feel to it, the stations, control tower, command center, the car etc. You felt that you were really down there. This one was made in the subways too with the cooperation of the MTA, but it felt so generic with its trick photography, rap blasts, etc. It was more like some lame MTV video than a movie at points. Where it fell far behind the original is in the character. This one is just a mind game duel between some generic Hollywood mastermind who also is a pointlessly violent movie psycho and Joe Niceguy in his space age command center. The original had a rich set of extras: the tired cranky subway workers, the hostages in the car, the other hijackers, as well as Detective Garber's partners. They all added some humor and color and made it feel that it was a reality based movie. Even the bad guy, a ruthless mercenary, was at least operating in reality, not playing violent head games with his counterpart on the other end of a radio link.

For instance, Joe Niceguy Garber-Washington is sent home by his superior after the NYPD hostage negotiation team moves in. So what does Psycho Bad Guy Ryder-Travolta do? He freaks out, threatens then murders a hostage in cold blood in order to get Garber back on the mike. No one, not Garber , the cops, or his colleagues even says something like: "you psychotic bastard what did you shoot an innocent man for you scum? That was not one of your demands." Instead the pacify him and act like it was the city's fault the man was shot. The original had a subway management guys who insulted and refused to cooperate with the hijackers until prodded by Garber. One of them was even murdered in the original when he walked down to the captured subway car unarmed and alone, and kept berating the hijackers. Then Bad Guy threatens to murder a teenager unless Good Guy admitted he took some bribe he was accused by the MTA of. Of course Good Guy fesses up, saving the youth's life. But when you add that to the last scene of Bad Guy murdering the motorman over Good Guy's absence, you have to wonder how someone so childish and impulsive could ever mastermind a sophisticated crime that took planning and others, as well as his previous life as some master of the universe. It reminded me of one of those "crazed vet with his gun in the room full of hostages for no particular reason" sort of scenarios, not a complex heist like this.

Both of the leads had all sorts of background story fillers that the original did just fine without. Then there is the mayor. In the original he as played by a nobody but he and his coterie of advisers were funny as he struggled with a cold. When he asked if paying off the hijackers would get him any votes, the reply was that he would get the hostages' votes. In this one Gandolfini as Mayor walked through the role, providing not much more than a cameo. Both movies had a car accident scene when the police were running the money from the federal reserve bank to the subway station cross town at high speed through downtown. But this one had about 3 times the footage as well 3 times the wrecks, for what purpose, NASCAR fans?

I could go on and on, but this one just had two stars, one hamming, the other loafing with a bunch of trick editing and some extras to fill up space. It was technically a good film with good production values so I gave it a 3 instead of a 1. The best think about this movie, when compared to the original, is to show us how bad things have slipped in Hollywood.
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7/10
Pelham Offers Quite a Ride!
dglink12 June 2009
The new Tony Scott movie gives one helluva ride, but don't sit and analyze the plot for credibility during the closing credits, this is not that kind of movie. Four sleazy thugs, who could be spotted as bad guys by a blind man, hijack a Lexington Avenue subway and take passengers as hostages. A ransom-for-hostages negotiation begins via radio between the driver's compartment on the train and the central control center for the New York City subway system. The premise is hardly new territory, and, for those who have seen the Walter-Matthau-Robert-Shaw version of the John Godey novel, the film is even less original.

However, for audiences that want a night out at the movies with a rousing action flick, "The Taking of Pelham 123" will fill the bill nicely. The editing is often frenetic, and the camera moves even during dialog-heavy scenes. The chases are fast paced, the car crashes are over the top, and the bloody scenes are properly bloody. While all of this is enough for some mindless entertainment, four excellent performances enhance the proceedings and make the film seem better than it is. John Travolta pulls out the stops as Ryder, the head hijacker, and, in his full wacko persona, steals his every scene. As the man on the other end of the phone, bespectacled Denzel Washington, dressed down in everyman frumpy, is quiet and assured, although nothing quite suggests that the character of Walter Garber will or could rise to his climactic actions. James Gandolfini plays the mayor with a sly sense of fun, and John Turturro is a hard-to-gauge hostage negotiator. "Pelham" is a man's movie, and the women are relegated to small, peripheral roles as wives, conductors, and hostages. How refreshing the film might have been if Scott had cast a female in one of the four main roles.

However, whatever the movie's flaws, and there are many, "The Taking of Pelham 123" does what it sets out to do: entertain and engage the audience for two hours. Don't expect more, and you won't be disappointed, and, in a summer movie, "Pelham's" assets are exactly what most of us are looking for anyway.
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1/10
Brain Damaged Film-making!!!
njmollo1 October 2009
The original "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1974) starring Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau is a classic. Tony Scott's remake, "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" (2009) is not.

This remake begins with what has become the obtrusive and defining style of Tony Scott's recent pictures.

Frenetic editing, sudden wipes, stuttering frames, rapid focus-pulls, repetitive zooms and ear piercing sound design to punctuate every moment. This style soon becomes sickening and you wish for a moment a shot would simply hold for more than 3 seconds without constant self-conscious cinematic gimmicks.

This arranged marriage of production effects even made me laugh out loud when during a helicopter shot of the New York skyline, the sun disappears behind some sky scrappers and each time it does you get a "whoosh" sound followed by a train "beeep"!

Soon after this nauseous beginning, a simple edit of Denzel Washington sitting at his desk is badly botched when a mid-shot cuts to a close-up and he is looking and sitting in a completely different position!

On top of these shallow post production and in-camera effects, the core of the original has been dumbed down with a profane and ranting script. The joy of the original ending has gone to be replaced by guns, ranting, salutes and machismo.

Gone is the tension and excitement of the original. Gone is the subtlety of performance. Gone is the humour. In fact everything that made the original great has been wiped clean from this horrendous exercise in style over content.

The wife asks for a gallon of milk (a ridiculous scene) and I am sure you would have a better time trying to drink that gallon of milk in one go than suffer this atrocious attempt at film-making.

Tony Scott is less talented than his brother but still showed promise with his early work. If he continues down this route of brain damaged film-making, I will avoid his pictures as I do those of Michael Bay and Ron Howard.
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1/10
This should be called Taken by Pelham 123
Vlad 112 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This had to be the worst remake ever. I should have known it was going to suck. I remember when they were shooting this back in summer'07... I decided to give it the benefit of doubt-the crew people said Travolta, Denzel, Gandolfini, Turturo...so I though okay: what the worst that could happen!Somewhere Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw and Martin Balsam are all spinning in their graves! Took recap my thesis argument: Hands down the worst remake that I ever seen in my almost 35 years. I have lost so much respect for the Hollywood Machine. The plot was ridiculous! The acting was cheesy! The dialogue was hilarious! (and folks this was no comedy) John Travolta was on the rise again- this might have knocked him down a few pegs. Denzel Washington... come on, And I am saying this with the utmost respect and admiration- But you could have picked a better script-if I were you I would fire your agent...I am not saying they ruined you but this was no American Gangster or X etc!
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7/10
Denzel Washington does it again
NewEnglandPat13 June 2009
This urban crime drama is a diverting entry with plenty of action, tense moments and running dialogue to sustain interest for the duration of the film. The main plot is a hostage situation and a demand for an outrageous sum of money. Denzel Washington and John Travolta spar throughout the picture and play off each other very well. Denzel, as always, is great and Travolta makes a good heavy although some of his one-liners fall flat as he negotiates with Washington. There are several interesting scenes of the trains, subway stations, tunnels, track beds and elevated sequences where the action takes place. Some of the street-level scenes, involving taxi and police car stunts don't seem to be necessary. Cast and camera work are very nice.
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4/10
Skip this and see the remarkable original Pelham instead.
Troy_Campbell30 September 2009
When placed side-by-side to the original 1974 classic slow-burning thriller, Tony Scott's remake looks like Danny Devito did in Twins: inferior in every way. Where Joseph Sargent's direction was subtle, Scott opts to shove everything down your throat; where Peter Stone's screenplay from 25 years ago was clever, Brian Helgeland tries too hard to make it hip and cool; and where Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw proved an unlikely but memorable pairing as good guy / bad guy, Washington and Travolta share next to no chemistry. So rather than sentencing this film to death by comparison (which it does deserve mind you) how does it go as a stand-alone picture? Tony Scott is essentially a glorified Michael Bay. Everything is done fast and loud, regardless if the film calls for it or not. Where this has worked for Top Gun or Crimson Tide it fails here. Scott has infused so much needless action with rapid edits and whiplashing camera movements that it proves to be distracting. Even an innocuous conversation between the Mayor and an adviser has a circling camera catching the scene, such is the constant motion Scott feels compelled to instil. It doesn't stop at the eyes though. Every chance possible our ears are assaulted with unnecessary sounds which are poorly matched to what we see on screen (at one point a helicopter sounds like an F1 car.) Occasionally a film calls for coarse language – some movies can even use excessive language to great effect (Reservoir Dogs or Boondock Saints for example) – however almost every time the F-bomb is dropped in Brian Helgeland's script, and it happens a hell of a lot, it is simply not required. 99% of the colourful language comes from Travolta's crim, but instead of emphasising emotion it purely makes him look stupid. Couple this with plot holes galore and this screenplay from the Oscar winner who wrote L.A. Confidential and Mystic River leaves a lot to be desired.

Thank goodness for Denzel. Incapable of delivering a bad performance, Scott's go-to man (this is their fourth collaboration) salvages this run-of-the-mill action / thriller with his nuanced performance and sheer charisma. As Garber (first name Walter as a nod to Matthau who played his 1974 counterpart), Washington finds a nice balance between your every day worker and someone able to step up in this extreme situation. Travolta doesn't succeed as the foul-mouthed psycho Ryder at all, his go-for-broke portrayal is laughable and ensures we can never take him seriously. Supporting players Gandolfini and Turturro are solid but don't have much to do.

Don't waste your money seeing this on the big screen, wait the six months and rent it on DVD. Better yet, skip this and see the remarkable original Pelham instead.
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8/10
"Pelham" Is Suspenseful, Fun Summer Heist Flick
violdamor6 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
In "The Taking of Pelham 123," Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber, a dispatcher in the New York City subway's control center. When Garber notices that the Pelham 123 train has stopped for seemingly no reason, he radios the driver and discovers that the train and its passengers have been taken hostage. A team of criminals led by a man who identifies himself as Ryder (John Travolta) is demanding that the mayor (James Gandolfini) give them $10 million within one hour in exchange for the hostages. If there's a delay, Ryder threatens to kill one hostage for each minute that the money's late.

This film is a remake of the 1974 original starring Walter Matthau alongside Jerry Stiller and Hector Elizondo. The filmmakers took some liberties with the story, which enhanced it. For instance, Garber is no longer Lt. Garber, a transit cop. "Pelham" is a by-the-numbers heist flick; the good guy will win, but the fun is seeing how he'll do it. Because Garber is no longer a professional crime fighter, an otherwise predictable (although enjoyable) premise becomes more suspenseful.

Also, the updated story portrays technology as both a blessing and a curse to good effect.

Washington and Travolta deliver engaging performances. Playing a relatively low-key, almost geeky civil servant is an interesting change of pace for Washington. Travolta is terrifying as a disturbingly intelligent crook who oscillates between being sadistic and amiable. The conversations between Garber and Ryder touch on fate, relationships and even contain moments of humor. Such lines, in the mouths of less capable actors, would have been tedious.

A standout in the supporting cast is John Turturro as police negotiator Officer Camonetti, who inserts himself into the hostage situation. Although playing a hard-boiled cop, Turturro handles the role delicately and prevents Camonetti from becoming a caricature.

One slight disappointment is that Garber's wife Therese (Aunjanue Ellis) does not factor into the film that much. Her appearance in the film's trailer is half of her appearance in the film. One would think that there would be plenty of home-related conflict considering that Garber's situation could result in professional, if not fatal, consequences. But then again, the story plays out in a little more than an hour, so the short shrift makes some logical sense: Perhaps there wasn't enough time for panic to mount.

This performance-driven (I had to make a pun somewhere) crime thriller is a must-see for the summer.
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2/10
Miss this train
jc-osms28 April 2015
Cards on the table, I loved the original 1974 movie on which this latter-day remake was based. It was exciting, clever and funny. I don't know what it is with modern-day remakes of classic 60's and 70's films but it seems to me that directors throw almost all the good stuff out and bring in instead eye-hurting jerky-flashy camera-work, an ear-poundingly loud soundtrack which is constantly in the background and even-louder talking characters who swear and commit random acts of mindless violence whenever it suits them.

So the Pelham 123 subway train in New York gets hijacked by disgruntled psychopathic Wall Street trader John Travolta as part of a devious plot to make a killing on the stock- exchange and revenge himself on the city for turfing him out of his high-paid job years before. That's your plot folks, with Denzel Washington as the demoted subway controller now running point in a desk job pending an investigation for corruption, who finds himself on duty just as Travolta and his bunch of merry men put their plan into action.

For some strange reason madman Travolta hits it off with decent man Washington, ignoring professional cop negotiator John Torturro, as he executes his nefarious plan. There's the expected number of bloody killings along the way, completely irrelevant car-chases around New York where cars don't just crash, they rise vertically in the air and roll over a dozen times on collision (the police have no less than three separate accidents trying to race the ransom money across town to meet Travolta's deadline) and of course, an out of control train tearing over New York with a car-load of innocent passengers who probably wish they'd taken the bus instead.

It's all unbelievable nonsense as you'd expect. I'm fast tiring of Washingston's ever-narrowing repertoire of decent-but-flawed leading men, Travolta is just awful as the loudmouth gang-leader and Torturro irrelevant as the negotiator. Only James Gandolfini shines as the city mayor who divines Travolta's real plan, wouldn't you know it, before the cops do.

The direction is garishly bad, the dialogue excruciating, especially the scenes between Washington and Travolta and Washington and his wife. There's no humour present at all, although there are some unintentional laughs, like when a rat runs up the trouser leg of a police sniper just as he's taking aim at Travolta, causing him to miss.

I've decided I really have to stop watching high-octane low-intelligence nonsense like this in future. Better yet, I wish Hollywood would stop making or remaking movies like this altogether.
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3/10
Pelham 1, 2, 3 Times a Disappointment
dfloersch21 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Tony Scott is obviously obsessed with the "F" word to the point of not being obsessed with logical details regarding his story. His goal was apparently to replace Scarface as one of the top "F" flicks of all time. Note to Tony: A good thriller flick is, in large part, based upon the believability of the story-line and the situation at hand.

1. Why would you deliver the money across NYC in mid afternoon by car vs. flying it by small helicopter (when facing a 38 minute deadline)?

2. Even then, surely you would know the best car route and block off the intersections in advance (vs. using a rolling roadblock) and thus, avoid two collisions (and potentially killing pedestrians on the most crowded sidewalks in the country).

3. You've got snipers surrounding the train car and can clearly see two men sitting in the front and two men standing in the back with guns. Give the signal and plink all four at one time.

4. A truly well-trained negotiator would have taken command of the scene and never let some smuck supervisor tell Denzel to go home. The negotiator knows that whomever establishes the initial report with the terrorist leader is critical on the scene.

5. Someone that Wall Street savvy also knows the SEC can trace and track activity that amounts to $307 million in a single day. How'd he think he could run from that?

I could go on but.., why?

This is simply another remake that disgraces the original.
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4/10
Some People Don't Understand 70s Cinema
Theo Robertson27 November 2012
The original movie was a smart witty thriller , a cut above the usual heist thriller . Some people might complain the action is a little bit too static but that's not the point and it is very important to remember this . Having nothing better planned I turned over to Film4 to catchthis remake and caught the tail end of the advert break . It was only after two minutes that I realised what I was watching wasn't the adverts but the opening sequence of THE TAKING PELHAM 123 . That's says all there is about this movie

Do I have to repeat it ? It's important to remember that whilst the original only having two sets , the subway control room and the subway train the original film managed to carry itself by some smart dialogue and character interaction . This obviously isn't enough for director Tony Scott and the production crew who feel the need to bludgeon the audience to death with MTV style camera work , editing and score . It's as if the production team think if people are being held at gun point on a train that's not exciting enough for a cinema audience so feel the need to insert sequences regardless of it makes any sense or not

It might have been a good idea to make the hostages in the train interesting . The original film succeeded on this score even if they were slightly offensive in their ethnic stereotypes but hey nothing is perfect but even that was preferable than a jarring cut of police cars zooming around the city with crash zoom lens , then to even this up we get a sequence in slow motion . The only people in this film who deserve any credit are the hairdressers who gave John Travolta the same hairstyle as me
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2/10
Denzel Washington is a JOKE
EricBosarge8 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is horrible. Another hack movie remake. Denzel Washington is his typical joke of a self. John Travolta plays the same annoying character that he does in everything else. He keeps trying to capture the magic of Pulp Fiction with the same facial and voice expressions. Denzel does the same thing that he has ever done in anything that he has bombed in. The acting and plot are horrid, and the worthless chase scene in the end could have been stock footage from any of hundreds of worthless flicks. This is just another title with big named bread with nothing in between it. I swear these movies should all have disclaimers about how bad they suck and that remakes are so lame in this day and age of uninspired plots.
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4/10
The noise, oh, the noise!
anhedonia17 June 2009
Is there a prerequisite somewhere in Tony Scott's contract that his films all have to be terribly, terribly noisy for no particular reason? I suppose if there was one filmmaker who could take a delicious cat-and-mouse thriller - that was made into a superb 1974 film starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Jerry Stiller and Martin Balsam - and turn it into a cacophonous mess, it would be Tony Scott.

Scott has replaced the wit, nuance and subtlety in the original film with yelling, bombast, some pointless action and noise.

After the screeching title credits, I actually thought Scott's remake showed promise when it settled into telling the story of the hijacking of Pelham 123. I liked the initial interaction between Denzel Washington's Walter Garber - a tribute to Matthau, perhaps? - and John Travolta's Ryder. There were the seeds being grown for a thrilling cat-and-mouse game.

But then Scott's needless wizardry comes to the forefront. The dazzling camera work, the fast edits, the obnoxious music that simply overpowers scenes.

Honestly, one cannot blame screenwriter Brian Helgeland for this. I am sure had Scott eschewed some of the technical razzmatazz for the story, going for substance over style, there might actually be an entertaining picture here.

Then again, Helgeland shares some blame for the story. Ryder is the only hijacker we get to know. The others, including one played by Luis Guzman, are completely forgettable. We only see them shooting guns or walking around the train carriage. They are cyphers and of little use to the plot. Watch this and then consider the 1974 original, where we got to know the other hijackers - they had some depth, they were fleshed-out - because director Joseph Sargent actually cared about delving into his characters.

In this remake, Garber is a civil servant, as opposed to a cop, with a shady past. Washington is up to the task of playing this Everyman character. There's a nice calmness to him, even though Helgeland has deprived Garber of any humor or spunk. Though, in a van attempt to give Garber depth, we have to sit through superfluous scenes involving Garber's wife.

Then, there's Travolta. Is it possible that Travola, like Al Pacino, is fast-becoming a caricature of himself? That was certainly the impression I got from watching this version of "The Taking of Pelham 123." Travolta's performance is so over-the-top that it simply is tough to take seriously. This is over-acting of "Battlefield Earth" (2000) proportions.

The trouble with Helgeland's screenplay is that it is riddled with giant plot holes. It really doesn't take a genius to figure out Ryder's background. But just in case we are too daft to get it, we are given hints as subtle as thunderous gunshots. But if Ryder is supposed to be as smart a person as he is, just consider his getaway plan. It borders on ridiculous. I can see why the other characters might want to abscond with the money, but why on earth would Ryder, given what we know about him? And given what we know about him, why would he want anyone to know what he looks like?

The action sequences are completely over-blown. Some even don't make any sense. One involving a parked car and a cop is utterly pointless. Action scenes have to make sense, there has to be a reason for them. It might look cool to blow things up and have vehicles crashing into each other, but if they don't have any meaning, they make no sense. That is the case in Scott's film.

"The Taking of Pelham 123" is the kind of film that gives Hollywood a bad name. Not that there are not style-over-substance movies that aren't enjoyable. Take Hong Kong actioners such as "So Close" (2002) or "The Killer" (1989), for instance: Despite their style, they still succeeded in being movies that one could get engrossed in. They are thrillers that thrill.

Scott uses slam-bang in a failed attempt to drum up thrills. He and Helgeland had a great chance to update the story and make a thoroughly exciting and captivating thriller with two strong, intelligent men matching wits. Instead, what we have is a boisterous, needlessly noisy, mindless action film that ignores an enticing premise because it is far more fascinated with car crashes than with nail-biting suspense.
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