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Friday, November 20, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 123

This week's movie rental was The Taking of Pelham 123, a 2009 remake of a 1974 movie of the same name. It's a product of Scott Free Productions, the team of the Scott brothers, Ridley and Tony, and Tony does the directing. The movie stars Denzel Washington, John Travolta, and John Turturro, and tells the tale of four bad guys led by Bernard Ryder (John Travolta) who take hostages on a subway car to extort $ from the city of New York. MTA dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is assigned to negotiate with him.

The best thing in the movie is Denzel Washington - he really is a great actor. I guess they tried to make his character more interesting buy having him be somewhat ethically flawed - he is being investigated (and admits his guilt) for having taken a work-related bribe. But of course he endeavors to redeem himself before the end. Also good - John Turturro as the NYPD negotiator. The next best thing about the movie is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the subway system itself ... it's kind of neat to see how it's run.

It's hard, though, to say what's the worst thing in the movie ....

Was it the megalomaniacal bad guy redux Travolta gives us (see Broken Arrow, Swordfish, Face/Off, etc.)? Oh, I guess they tried to make his character more interesting too - he was a dishonest Wall Street high roller who dated a derriere model, was really ok with murdering people in cold blood, and was for some reason also Catholic (his favorite line - "We all owe God a debt." Sounds more Calvinist to me :).

Or was the worst thing the writing? If you feel the need to see bad guys taking hostages for mean-spirited selfish reasons (rather than the more ethical reason of ideology?) try the original Die Hard or Speed or even From Dawn to Dusk - at least with the latter you get vampires :) Overall, I found the cynicism written into almost every line of the story just numbing. But maybe I'm wrong - The New York Times gave it a better review. As it states ...

No one [in the film] is untouched by moral rot .... The heroes and villains are separated not by metaphysical essence but by choices, habits and the durability of a native ethical instinct, embodied in the flawed, diffident Walter Garber, that somehow survives amid all the excess and corruption. The best, truest and most unashamedly sentimental image of New York in “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” comes in the film’s final shot of an outer-borough homeowner walking home from the subway after a hard day’s work, having saved the city once again.

Odd, but this above that the reviewer found so laudable about the movie, I found contrived, but I have to say that Denzel Washinton and John Turturro almost made up for it.


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