The Taking of Pelham 123

Efficient, Visceral but Cold and Humourless Remake, 31 July 2009

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As a stand alone heist movie this is perfectly adequate. But if you are going to remake a genre classic you either have to succeed in doing it better, or differently, and this does not. The plot is straight forwards. A criminal gang hijacks a New York subway train and starts killing hostages whilst a $10m ransom is delivered. John Travolta stars as Ryder the psychopathic gang leader, Denzel Washington plays the train controller who takes his call.

A one hour deadline in a two hour running time provides plenty of opportunity for real time excitement. But Director Tony Scott delivers exaggerated peripheral action at the expense of the intensity of the story. The ransom delivery run is converted into a chance to play out some ludicrous car crash stunts, and the obligatory closing shoot out involves a circle of gun toting cops blazing away at the bad guys in the middle – and each other.

Ryder is played as a profane, mad thug,in the manner of Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsleys performances in “Sexy Beast” and “In Bruges”. This has the downside that he has no redeeming features. A “back story” for controller Gruber ultimately goes nowhere and adds little to plot development. The addition of a two way laptop interface as a nod to the 21st century has great dramatic potential, but is wasted.

The original shone for two reasons. Firrstly grainy, gritty, realistic cinematography, and secondly a compelling chemistry between the two leads. Director Tony Scott produces glossy “action hero” dramatic sequences and Ryder’s character allows no space for empathy.But what is also missing is the dry, laconic humour which underpinned the original. The Mayor’s part is cruelly underwritten in this regard.

An intrusive, raucous hip hop sound track sits awkwardly with the strings that signal a rare “mellow moment”. But the story unfolds at a cracking pace and those unfamiliar with the superior original will not walk away disappointed.

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