DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

The Taking of Pelham 123 - DVD Review



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When the Scott brothers make a movie, you can be almost certain you will be watching a high roller action-thriller flick. Contrary to elder brother Ridley's epic action sagas, Tony Scott usually finds a way of engaging the audience with some terrific battle of wits dialogues alternated by some equally spectacular action sequences. He did that exceptionally well in Crimson Tide. He also does that here, but only in the first half. As such, The Taking of Pelham starts off well but somewhere in between changes tracks and hits a brick wall. Pun intended.

Originally adapted to film in 1974 by Morton Freedgood's novel by the same title and re-made again for TV in 1998, this third re-make sprints off to a good start albeit with an improvised script tailor-made for the current day sub-way transit system.

The Taking of  Pelham 123As the NYC 6 train pulls out of Pelham station, four armed men take the first car hostage after de-coupling the trailing compartments. Calling himself Ryder (John Travolta), this manic mastermind gets straight to the point; a ransom of $10 million dollars to be delivered within an hour with an additional cost of one dead hostage every minute exceeding this time frame if his demand is not met. Shockingly trying to comprehend what he's just heard is control centre dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) on the other end of the radio. Under suspicion for fraud, resulting in a suspension from MTA executive to radio dispatcher, Garber's ordinary day at work becomes a nightmare when Ryder refuses to speak to anyone else. When NYPD hostage negotiator Lt. Camonetti (John Turturro) attempts to take control of the situation, Ryder goes berserk and empties a clip on the hapless train operator enforcing his earlier demand to speak to no one but Garber. Back on his seat, Garber engages Ryder into a game of verbal chess, thus stalling for time as prompted by Lt. Comonetti. The ensuing mind games rises a few notches until the arrival of the New York City Mayor (James Gandolfini), who despite sanctioning the ransom, is made a public coward by Ryder, before executing another hostage. At this point, Garber's probing into Ryder's psyche reveals a darker intent behind the latter's motives, suggesting that the hijack is only a vendetta for a previous incarceration unfairly awarded to him by the city of New York.

Given the context of the plot and his past working experience with Washington, remaking a film that was already made twice before should have been a piece of cake for Scott. Enhancing the plot with a present day technological upgrade inclusive of WIFI hot-spots within subway tunnels, web-cam streaming between laptops and motion and thermal imaging of train networks all add an extra finishing touch to the original script. Where Scott seems to have gone off track is his over indulgence in action scenes and at one point really goes over board. I could have sworn I saw two over-the-top car crashes that look exactly the same but from different angles. On the performance front, Washington leads and ensemble cast and does exactly what you would expect to see him do, despite some of the unnecessary clichés in the end. Having seen Travolta in the role of villains bordering on lunacy in Broken Arrow and Face-Off, I have to admit, this is his most intense role as the antagonist and super bad-ass at that. Although Travolta fits snug into his character here, his role diverts from the 1974 plot of a cold and manipulative ring leader. Again, a stalemate move by Scott as I find it improbable for a trigger-happy loose cannon of a criminal mastermind to pull off a professionally premeditated heist. But even as Travolta and Washington are great in their individual roles, there appears to be a definite lack in collective chemistry. Maybe it has something to do with the way the script is arranged, but the nemesis factor between the two characters is clearly missing especially since there is a lot of mental taunting between the two. If you have seen Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on opposite sides of the law in Heat, you may have an idea on what I'm driving at. Supporting roles from Turturro and Gandolfini is amusing as two government officials playing humpty-dumpty sitting on a wall. I was expecting Turturro's usual wise cracks, but Gandolfini has the edge here with his Sopranos crooked smile and sarcasm contributing towards some light humor in an otherwise fast paced action flick. Oh, did I mention Luis Guzman is also in a supporting role? No, I didn't. That's because he barely utters five words whose sole purpose is a sitting duck for sniper fire.

For what its worth, The Taking of Pelham is decent entertainment for a lazy afternoon, and will go well with a pint of your favorite lager. What it's not is an astounding movie to rave about in Facebook. What it is definitely not, is Tony Scott's best action caper.


Component Grades
Movie
DVD
3 Stars
3 Stars
DVD Experience
3 Stars

DVD

DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 2.40:1

Subtitles: English SDH, English, Catalan, French, Portuguese, Spanish.

Language and Sound: Closed Captioned; English: Dolby True HD; English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French-Canadian: Dolby Digital 5.1; Castilian: Dolby Digital 5.1; Catalan: Dolby Digital 5.1l

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; director's commentary; audio commentary; making-of featurettes; behind-the-scenes featurette; trailers.

Supplements:

Commentary

  • Feature-length commentary track with director Tony Scott
  • Feature-length commentary with writer Brian Helgeland and producer Todd Black

Featurettes

  • No Time to Lose: The Making of Pelham 123
  • The Third Rail: New York Underground From the Top Down: Stylizing Character

Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging

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