The Taking of Pelham 123
- Eddie Harrison
- 23 July 2009
How can you go wrong with a remake of 1974’s Joseph Sargent thriller, in which cop Walter Matthau and master-criminal Robert Shaw played out a tense cat-and-mouse game for the lives of subway hostages? For the first hour at least, Tony Scott’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 comes up with a few smart riffs on the basic situation, with Denzel Washington downplaying as put-upon controller Walter Garber and John Travolta at his scuzziest as the vindictive Ryder, who takes a train full of innocent New Yorkers as security for his ransom demands.
Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential, Payback) has contributed a script that adds effective shades of grey to the characterisations, with Garber’s morals in question after taking a bribe on a lucrative subway contract, and Travolta’s grudge against the city sympathetically voiced. But on the hour mark, the ideas run dry, and Scott’s film peters out to a limp conclusion with none of the gritty punch of the original.
For his fourth collaboration with Washington, following on from Crimson Tide, Man on Fire and Déjà Vu, Scott elicits decent lead performances and throws in a couple of spectacular but irrelevant car-smashes as the cops race to get the ransom cash into position. But all the modish updates involving webcams and hi-tech surveillance go for nothing when Ryder’s plan is revealed to be unspeakably lame, and the high-death toll sits uneasily with the all-smiles ending. Not a patch on the original, John Godey’s tightly-wound source novel deserved a better make-over than this.
(15) 121 min On general release from Fri 31 Jul.