Time: 106 Minutes
Age Rating: R16 – contains violence & offensive language
Denzel Washington as Walter Garber
John Travolta as Dennis ‘Ryder’ Ford/Mr. Blue
John Turturro as Lieutenant Vincent Camonetti
Luis Guzmán as Phil Ramos/Mr. Green
Michael Rispoli as John Johnson
James Gandolfini as the Mayor of New York
Director: Tony Scott
A subway dispatcher’s day is thrown into chaos when four armed men hijack the subway train and take the commuters as hostages. They demand USD 10 million from the mayor as ransom.
Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 123 is a remake of the 1970s hostage thriller of the same name. I did watch that 1974 original, but its been a while since I saw it, so I am viewing the 2009 version as its own movie. Overall, it is pretty good action thriller.
The premise is pretty familiar and straightforward, it’s a hostage situation where a subway train is hijacked, and someone has to negotiate with the leader of the hijackers. The script is pretty thin, but it was suspenseful and well paced throughout, and I found it consistently entertaining. It particularly comes alive during the phone interactions between the two leads, it is vibrant, and the back and forth conversations are thrilling.
There is a great cast, but it mostly comes down to Denzel Washington and John Travolta in the lead roles. Washington is reliably good, bringing life to a character in an ordinary job who finds himself caught in a very tense situation, and he helps to get you connected to the story. Travolta plays the leader of the hijackers and that antagonist of the film. His performance is unhinged, campy, psychotic and brash, and he’s clearly having a lot of fun here. He definitely won’t work for everyone, but I liked him here. These two are the driving force of the movie and particularly made for a good pairing because of how much they contrasted against each other. Washington is grounded and underplays things, while Travolta is incredibly over the top. There’s a clear connection between the two characters and they play well off each other, with their interactions being some of the highlights of the movie. There’s also a pretty good supporting cast, with actors like John Turturro, Luis Guzman, James Gandolfini giving solid performances.
Tony Scott directs this with his trademark frenetic style (most evident in his 2000s movies), which really helps to propel things forward. The cinematography is dizzying, frantic and has vibrant colours, the editing is fast paced and flashy, and the action is pretty gripping. With this, Scott does particularly well at adding a lot of visual style to the phone conversations.
The Taking of Pelham 123 is a well made and tense hostage thriller, confidently and stylishly directed by Tony Scott, and with solid lead performances from Denzel Washington and John Travolta. Not one of Scott’s best by any means, but it is pretty good, and worth checking out.