Film Review: The Taking of Pelham 123


I won’t beat around the bush – this is pretty bad. If you’ve been anywhere near a mainstream cinema lately, you’ll probably have seen the trailer. Sad to report, you don’t need to see any more than that…

It’s the third filmed version of this story, following a well regarded 1974 version and a little-seen TV-movie from 1998 and it’s easy to see why director Tony Scott decided to revisit the material. On paper it sounds like a lean, mean action machine: bad guy hijacks subway train; passengers will die if his ransom demands are not met within one hour; heroic New York City transit employee comes to the rescue. Cast John Travolta and Denzel Washington as the bad guy and the hero respectively and you can’t go wrong, right?

Wrong. In my opinion, the film was woeful on almost every level…

Tony Scott employs his usual flashy style, with a sudden zoom or a jump-cut every ten seconds or so. Yes, it’s kinetic and colourful and some clever sound-design is employed to amp up the sense of urgency. Scott tries really hard to inject as much action as he can above-ground, with car crashes and swooping helicopters and lots of men in uniform running around. But you can’t hide the fact that for much of its running time, this is basically a filmed conversation between a man having a bad day at work and an angry person on an underground train.

The performances are very ordinary. Travolta does bring some weight to his role – about 50 kilos worth by my estimation. He’s been veering towards chunky in recent years, but this really shows that there was less padding under the Edna Turnblad costume than we thought. The crazy schtick he employs here is strictly off-the-shelf – a mixture of softly-spoken menace and sudden shouting, plus a neck tattoo for extra edginess.

And honestly, is there a duller actor working today than Denzel Washington? I know we like it when he plays bad guys, but presumably this is because we’re shocked he isn’t playing the same old world-weary everyman whose lips quiver to indicate each ‘dramatic moment’. He’s ordinary here to the point of being invisible and frankly, it’s tough to care whether he succeeds or not in his endeavours to save the day.

And whose idea was it to cast James Gandolfini as an obsequious Mayor coming to the end of his tenure? We all know he’s more than just Tony Soprano, but I really don’t think anyone buys this guy as weak and nervy.

I love movies and I’ll always find something positive to say about a film whenever I can. In this case, I’ll allow that the credits are interesting and the gunplay is pleasingly brutal.

I’m not being snobbish and I enjoy a popcorn no-brainer as much as the next person, but if you’re in the mood for that kind of entertainment, approach with caution. You’d be wiser staying in and watching an episode of CSI – it’s half as long and twice as well-made.

Review by: The All Knowing I


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2 Responses to “Film Review: The Taking of Pelham 123”

  1. Louis Says:

    Washington is the best actor working today. It wanted the histrionic group between those who are Pitt and Penn arrived in the shoe sole. The review seems illogical and poorly written.

    • macarthursmutterings Says:

      Did you actually see the film? Fair enough you may not agree with the review, but “illogical and poorly written” – really!?

      Feel free to write your own review, I would be happy to put it on here as a counter point of view.

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