Starring:Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, James Gandolfini
Writer(s):Brian Helgeland, John Godey
Original Score:Harry Gregson-Williams
Running Time:121 Mins.
Much has been made of The Taking of Pelham 123(2009) not being as good as the original film based upon John Godey’s novel, that 1974 version starred Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw respectively as train controller and criminal. Well, that must be one hell of a good film because I’m happy to report that next to Star Trek this is THE film of the summer, unless G.I. Joe miraculously turns out to be a cinematic marvel, well we can hope!
It’s a pretty simple premise, criminal Ryder (Travolta) takes over a train (the titular 123) and holds its 18 passengers hostage with demands for $10 million dollars in precisely one hour, should this not happen a hostage will die every minute thereafter. Conducting the hostage negotiation is Garber, an unwittingly involved train controller. Pretty run of the mill plot wise you will likely agree and that, I think, is the beauty of the film, its simplicity is key to its success.
The pairing of director Tony Scott with star Denzel Washington is a fruitful combo, this being their fourth time of working together and it might just be the best yet, their last two efforts (Deja Vu and Man On Fire) were both great in thier own ways, at once very original yet sharing Scott’s now iconic style, the former taking it to extremes with the jumpy editing and panning camera swoops giving of a jittery and tense air. This is evident once more with The Taking of Pelham 123 but has been toned down to allow the characters more time to breathe and grow.
In their exchanges, which incidentally are the films highlights, Washington and Travolta excel, yes Travolta is a tad ott but is that not why we love to watch this guy work his magic (if he isn’t dancing at least), and Washington exudes an air of humanity rarely seen in a Hollywood production this big, he truly is one of our greatest actors and there is more excitement to be found in their dialogue than in any number of Transformer’s or Terminator’s, there’s something to be said for good old fashioned acting!
Despite the inevitable marketing of Pelham 123 as an action film, it really does contain very little in the way of actual action, in terms of car chases or gunfights, yes there are crashes and yes guns are fired but usually each bullet or smash has a consequence not often conveyed in action films of late.
As ever Scott has a way of surrounding his leads with a great support and here he has assembled James Gandolfini and John Turturro as Mayor (reluctant Mayor at that) and hostage negotiator, Turturro is as toned down in his mannerisms as I have ever seen and he works all the better for it, there is, as with Washington, a real human quality to his character, a sincerity that furthermore engrosses you in the plot.
Half the plot is measured in real time as a scramble is made to get the money together, its tense and measured meaning you are aware of the time passing as you watch the film, a risky device and one that can all too often be a hindrance in terms of clock watching, especially in terms of a films misgivings, no such problems here however and as it is pacey you keep wanting time to slow, not only for the hostages sake but so you can spend time with these great actors, no, characters.
On its denouement where many films of this sort fall apart, The Taking of Pelham 123 takes a measured path to a thoroughly satisfying end, not cheesy or crass like so many films this year you are left both satisfied and 100% entertained, and I for one can’t wait for the next Scott/Washington collaboration (said to be another train based thriller, Unstoppable).
The Taking of Pelham 123 might just be the most enjoyable blockbuster film of the summer, engrossing and “action packed” yet not in the traditional sense of the word, testament to the skill of both star and director, I can’t recommend it enough.