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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) Dir. Tony Scott 4 August 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Cinema Review.
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And so the pointless remakes keep coming. This time Tony Scott, motion-sickness inducing director behind the likes of Enemy of the State, Domino and Man on Fire has focused his ADD camera on a ‘re-imagining’ of Joseph Sargent’s definitive hijack flick, but it’s a hefty dose of caffeine rather than the sick bag that audiences will be reaching for this time round.

Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber (a nod to Walter Matthau who played the role in the original), a disgraced subway dispatcher under investigation for taking a bribe, who happens to be working at the wrong desk on the wrong day when John Travolta’s Ryder decides to hijack a subway car and hold the hostages ransom for $10 million (plus one cent). And that’s your lot. There’s some attempt to colour in Ryder by giving him a background as a stock broker (leading to a ‘twist’ that goes nowhere), the city of New York comes in for a lot of random criticism (not being a native all that flew over my head) and James Gandolfini plays the useless political figure who tries to get involoved (in this case the mayor) we’ve seen countless times before.

The first thing that will strike you about The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is just how dull it is. Despite Tony Scott’s attempts to liven up proceedings with every camera trick under his belt, and regular ear drum threatening bursts of rock/hip hop music, this doesn’t disguise the fact that a good three quarters of the film is two people talking to each other over a microphone. While this was the formula the original followed the remake falters by thinking it can forgo interesting protagonists in favour of the occasional shoehorned in action beat, much to its detriment.

Washington is one of the most consistent actors working today, but his attempt at the everyman here falls flat. Quite why he put on 40 pounds for the role I don’t know, maybe it was to give us a bit of a laugh during the Brooklyn Bridge sprint towards the film’s climax. His laconic deliveries may as well have been done over the phone and this isn’t helped by a complete lack of charisma on the page. Matthau’s smart mouthed Garber this ‘aint.

Unfortunately Travolta comes out even worse, offering up a performance as far removed from Robert Shaw’s chillingly underplayed Blue as you can get. Hamming it up in a way we’ve seen far too often from Travolta since Pulp Fiction. SHOUTING EVERY OTHER LINE is the name of the game here while the motivation behind his actions are never satisfactorily explained or justified (simply money or revenge for being sent to jail – who knows? Who cares?) James Gandolfini, John Turturro and Luis Guzman show up in largely unnecessary supporting roles while the truly memorable colour coded hijackers of the original are replaced here with generic workaday terrorist types.

Why they even bothered with the remake I’m not quite sure as all Helgeland seems to have done here is replace all sense of originality and tension (where is the sneeze at the end?) with a few more gunshots, a bigger car crash and a climactic chase on foot (which to be fair does come as a welcome relief after being stuck underground for 90 minutes). Underplaying it just doesn’t suit Tony Scott, even if most would still consider The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 the work of an average director on speed.

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