The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 features fine performances and a well written script, but is marred by director Tony Scott’s over handed direction.
This is the third adaptation of John Goodey’s novel, following in the steps of the 1974 classic, and the less then well received 1998 telemovie.
John Travolta stars as Ryder, an ex-con with a death wish, who takes hostage an express train packed with commuters, issuing a demand of $10 million dollars for their release.
Denzel Washington co-stars as Garber, a train conductor who makes first contact and, at Ryder’s insistence, is lumped with the role of negotiator.
John Turturro and James Gandolfini play support as a hostage negotiator and the mayor of New York, respectively.
With the clock ticking, the film quickly turns into a race against time thriller, with a sporadically used digital clock employed to heighten tension.
While danger and the prospect of violence is its drawcard, the films strength lies in the bond developed between its two main characters, with screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s dense dialogue on display during the revealing back and fourths between Ryder & Garber.
In turn, two fleshed out and conflicted characters are presented: Garber a demoted engineer battling bribery allegations; and Ryder a homicidal yet calculating ex-con, who seems to be suffering from a demented case of Catholic guilt.
Both leads put on fine performances.
Washington successfully dresses down for the occasion, keeping his infectious charm and unintentional tendency to grandstand in check.
Countering is a wild eyed Travolta, who dresses up in leather garb that comes off as a mix of biker stud and Freddie Mercury. Over the top, yet entertaining, acting follows.
...Pelham’s stumbling block is the distracting direction from Tony Scott.
Once upon a time the only major visual annoyance form the lesser Scott brother was an over use of a smoke machine. But now Scott can’t seem to shake his obsession to taint every frame with an over use of frenzied graphics, coupled with LOUD music. It was fine in Man on Fire. Not so much here.
Perhaps occupied by his focus on the films visuals, Scott also falters with a bumbling third act that resorts to action cliché and undermines the work placed before hand.
The final conclusion is an entertaining heist film, yet it does not reach the potential another director with more focus could have given it.