- READER REVIEWS
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
(No longer in theaters)
Todd Black, Tony Scott, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch
Jun 8, 2009
Director Tony Scott keeps the remake of the 1974 thriller The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 in constant motion. True, the New York subway car being held by gunmen under the command of John Travolta is stopped dead between stations, and humble dispatcher Denzel Washington—who pleads/negotiates/debates/swaps personal stories with Travolta while everyone waits for the ransom to be paid—is largely confined to his desk. But the camera! First, it circles counterclockwise around Washington. Then it circles clockwise. Then it’s back to counterclockwise, this time jumping to close-up. Then it’s clockwise again, except with more urgency, the beads of sweat on Washington’s brow reflecting the periwinkle blue of the subway command center’s monitors, which also tie in nicely with the blue of hostage negotiator John Turturro’s shirt and the lights of the tunnel as dispersed by droplets on the train’s windows. As Scott’s camera continues to circle, hopscotch, swing on the monkey bars, and whoosh around a grid of Manhattan, Washington asks Travolta if he’s a terrorist and Travolta cackles, “Do I sound like a terrorist?” “This is just about money?” “Is there anything else?” That’s the film’s most credible exchange. Watching this Pelham—a money job from its conception—you can believe that there’s no other motivation on Earth.
Has the memory of the original Pelham been sullied? Not really. It’s a broad, artless, pushy film that seems proud of its parade of ethnic cartoon figures, as if to say, “What makes New York New York is that we play our stereotypes to the hilt!” But it was, at least, of its era. Starring the jaded, shambling Walter Matthau and scripted by Peter Stone, Pelham was a New York Jewish comedy writer’s take on the modern metropolis going meshuggener. Scott’s might as well have been set in Toronto. For all the syncopated helicopter shots of the city, no image is held for long enough to give us a true sense of place. Scott has the filmmaker’s equivalent of a neurological condition: When he cuts to a new shot, he can’t seem to remember the last one—and he’s always cutting, circling, fussing with the lighting …
His condition must have been contagious, since writer Brian Helgeland
introduces and drops enough plot points to make another movie. The
mayor (James Gandolfini, who gets to make a Giuliani joke so that we
don’t confuse him with the last, less-charismatic Italian mayor) susses
out Travolta’s real motivation and rushes off to save the day—and
that’s the last we hear of his plan. A passenger’s dropped laptop sends
out images of the captors, who don’t realize they’re on camera—but
nothing comes of that information. Travolta’s high-tech 21st-century
scheme turns out to be not just preposterous but superfluous, demented:
Why would he need to do something so … so … 1974 as hijacking a subway
train to do what a lot of hedge-fund managers do before breakfast?
Travolta doesn’t suggest a man who cares one way or the other, though.
Like everyone else behind The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, he got his money up front.