Wednesday, July 22, 2009

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123: A Thriller Ride

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (hostage drama)
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, Michael Rispoli and James Gandolfini
Director: Tony Scott
Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: This is the second remake of the 1974 New York subway hostage drama (of the same title) - and director Tony Scott has done a first class job. (The first remake was a made-for-TV version in 1998).

Scott, working on a script by Brian Helgeland, has resisted the temptation to transform the

psychological thriller, into an action film. Instead, he updates the events to a modern day (post 9/11) setting and piles up on the tension and suspense.

The result is a movie that will keep our butts on the edge of the seat and our palms wet with anxiety...

THE SKINNY: As soon as the movie starts, we are plunged right into the action. An ordinary day of New York City subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is thrown into chaos when a socialpath who calls himself Ryder (John Travolta, pictured), takes over subway train Pelham 123. He is aided by his gang of three (Luis Guzmán, Victor Gojcaj, Robert Vataj), and is holding 18 passengers and the 'motor man' hostage.

He demands US$10 million (it was US$1 million in the 1974 film) from the city of NY in 60 minutes or he'll start killing the hostages one-by-one. The authorities bring in hostage negotiator Lt Camonetti (John Turturro) to help out - and the mayor, played with gusto by James Gandolfini, rushes to the station to oversee the situation. Soon, besides the tension of the hostage-taking, we also get to see how personal secrets and conflicts play out.

HITS & MISSES: Unlike in the 1974 movie (which starred Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau in the Ryder-Garber roles), Scott's version is more about the relationship that develops between the two. They have more in common than meets the eye - and this is revealed as negotiations continue. Travolta and Washington prove their mettle in their performances. Travolta's Ryder is smart, efficient and calculating, and despite being the perpetrator, we can't help but admire Ryder's wit and determination.

Washington is compelling as a man caught in a crisis - and director Scott cleverly throws in domestic scenes of Walter speaking to his wife on the phone to enhance the mundane-ness and humanity of the situation. Unlike his comical role in Transformers, Turturro's Camonetti is a level-headed guy who knows the ropes. And of course, there's the delectable Gandolfini who happens to get all the best lines.

Movie buffs would note that the ending has been changed to allow Washington to get into the action. I like it and the fact that scripter Helgeland seems to have done a lot of research in coming up with this screenplay.

THE LOWDOWN: Book a ticket if you want a heart-pounding ride.


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