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"The Taking of Pelham 123" (2009) {Blu-ray}
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Sony Home Video
Genre:
Action
Release Date:
11/3/09
Special Features:

2 commentary tracks-the first with director Tony Scott while the second has producer Todd Black and writer Brian Helgeland; 30 minute making-of documentary, 15 minute featurette on, trailers ---

Review:

Anyone that has been on New York's subway system has enough to contend with but add thousands of pounds of concrete, people singing moving from car-to-car or pan handlers asking for hand outs and you'll feel a bit...threatened. Add guns and a man with a plan to take the city of New York for $10 million and you've got a plot for a movie. ***

Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) ends up working the dispatch desk at the MTA because he's suspected of taking a bribe when selecting new cars from vendors based in Japan. He starts his morning with a cloud hanging over him, fighting his "temporary" replacement and finds himself suddenly the point person when "Ryder" (John Travolta) leads a group of men to take the Pelham 123 car full of passengers hostage. His demand--New York has to pony up $10 million within an hour or he starts shooting passengers. ***

A tense, well made thriller from director Tony Scott ("Man on Fire"), "The Taking of Pelham 123" is the second film based on the popular 1971 bestseller. Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential") stay true to the basic plot of John Godey's novel. Ditching the sarcastic sense of humor that permeated the original film and the modest production values of the 1998 TV remake, Scott focuses on two damaged men trying to outsmart each other long enough to succeed in their goals. Adding layers of depth to the characters gives Scott's film a unique flavor along with the tense, claustrophobic direction of Scott. Even outdoor shots are tightly framed and Scott gives his two lead actors room to play their emotions without overplaying it. Travolta explodes in his role as "Ryder" taking the complete opposite, contained and cool performance of Robert Shaw in the same role 35 years ago. Washington on the other hand exhibits an intense gravity in his role as Garber. His quiet intensity nicely contrasts with Travolta's scenery chewing. Director Scott also ditches the fake names that "Ryder" and his crew take (Mr. Green, Mr. Blue, etc. which was "borrowed" by Quentin Tarantino for his film "Reservoir Dogs") instead relying on less imaginative false indentities. ***

What film fans may want to know is how this remake stacks up against the 1974 original film with Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau. Scott's film is different enough in tone, motivation and character in not plot to allow it to stand up pretty well in comparison. The original 1974 film directed by Joseph Pevney (best known for his TV work on shows such as "Star Trek") doesn't use the rapid fire cutting style of this film nor does it have much in the way of action. Instead, it relies on good old fashioned film direction, performances and a colorful cast to work. "The Taking of Pelham 123" from 1974 IS a classic suspense thriller and, by comparison, Scott's is designed for the Attention Deficit crowd that goes to movies today for quick, cheap thrills. The remake doesn't skirt Michael Bay territory with pointless excercises in idiotic action and an underwritten script but it doesn't quite measure up to the original film either. ***

Tony Scott remains a technically gifted director when he has the right material can make some incredible films. He doesn't quite measure up artistically to his older brother Ridley ("Blade Runner", "Alien", "The Duelists", "Gladiator") but he's still a cut above Michael Bay's mindless film direction. The remake is an enjoyable suspense-action thriller focusing much more on action and lacking the sarcastic sense of humor of the original (something that Tony Scott in his commentary track attacks--NOT a good thing to do Tony just because you wouldn't--or couldn't--to it that way doesn't mean it was the WRONG way). What truly makes the 2009 remake stay on track are the performances and the strong casting of the film. Scott's direction is sure and the writing gives us the unnecessary backstory for the characters (something we could imagine in the original) but that element does give Scott's film its own unique tone as well. All things being equal I'd pick the original film over the 2009 remake but pick the 2009 remake over the 1998 TV movie remake. ---

Image & Sound:

"The Taking of Pelham 123" appears to be the express car; it's sleek looking with lots of character and detail visible in every frame. Colors are bold and the film looks nearly flawless as presented. here. ***

Audio comes alive here. The 5.1 mix sounds terrific very alive in every scene even when there is only ambient background. ---

Special Features:

We get two audio commentary tracks. The first features director Scott (where he disses the original "Pelham") discussing the technical issues they faced shooting the film, the changes to the original novel made here and why he chose a different path than director Joseph Pevney in the original "Pelham". ***

Producer Todd Black and writer Brian Helgeland provide the second commentary track. Black and Helgeland's commentary track tends to be the more lively of the two. ***

We also get a nearly half hour featurette on the making of the film and a 15 minute featurette that focuses exclusively on shooting in the New York subway system. We also get a featurette on, of all things, hair styling. Yep, hair styling. OK, hair styling probably should get its due but on this film? Really? We also get a variety of trailers. ---

Final Words:

"The Taking of Pelham 123" from 1974 remains the definitive telling of the story and has aged remarkably well. The remake while it might lack the original film's sly sense of humor is equally memorable by staying away from the very things that made the original successful. While I don't appreciate Scott knocking the original because he chose a different approach to the material, I do appreciate the fact that the filmmakers do try to come up with something that isn't a shot-for-shot remake of the original. Recommended but you really need to see the original as well.

 

 
 
 
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