14 August 2009

Movie Review: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3


D+

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
2009, 103mins, R
Director: Tony Scott
Writer (s): Brian Helgeland, John Godey (novel)
Cast includes: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Luis Guzman, John Turturro, James Gandolfini, Ramon Rodriguez
Release Date: 12th June 2009

“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is a severely disappointing addition to summer 2009. Those who fostered high hopes of Tony Scott delivering a subtle or intricate retelling of this story were fools to begin with but there was always the off chance the uber-kinetic director might create something that at least bordered on exciting. However what is actually served up is a frenzied and over directed piece of nonsense, hardly descriptions to which Scott is a stranger. His rendition does include some interesting conversations between protagonist and villain with a few snippets of tension as a consequence, but overall this is a badly directed and blurred slice of ADD filmmaking rather than the summer blockbuster it’s being sold as.

“Pelham” opens with one of the least impressive pre-credits sequences I can remember, its mix of ear shredding hip-hop, slow motion and swerving camera jumps instantly reminding you of the technical horrors to which Tony Scott so often unleashes. At least by the end of them the plot has been fully set-up, a crazed sociopath going by the name Ryder (John Travolta) has taken hostage a train carriage and as a result the 18 people within it. Radioing back to the dispatcher on duty, in this case the unfortunate Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), he makes his demands and the consequences of neglecting them clear. He wants $10,000 000 within an hour and for every minute that the City is late with the money, he’ll kill one of prisoners. The Mayor (James Gandolfini) and a negotiating specialist (John Turturro) are drafted in to help solve the matter, but Ryder is interested in communicating only with Garber and thus the fate of the passengers rests in his hands.

Within the film’s 103 minutes there is one outstandingly orchestrated scene in which Garber has to make a sacrifice on his end to save one of Ryder’s hostages. The moment is filled with tension, unease and a real sense of psychological warfare, and shows just how good this remake might have been had the rest of the movie followed suite. Sadly it doesn’t and the consequence is a positively drab effort, a muted and thoroughly ineffective lurch in the direction of suspense coated in layer upon layer of stupidity. “Pelham” 2009 only displays respect for the audience in a few select scenes, the rest of the time it’s content to act like a bad Michael Bay film minus the awesome CGI.

The leads are certainly talented but ultimately both hand in mediocre performances, Washington isn’t trying hard enough whilst Travolta overacts the vast majority of his scenes. Washington is always an affable screen presence and certainly he’s the closest thing to a hero in “Pelham”, yet his acting feels overly relaxed and lazy at times. Travolta emits quite the opposite problem, in giving it his all he ends up going too far, taking his lunatic away from the disturbed pastures the story requires and into the realms of cartoon villainy. There isn’t much intimidating about Travolta’s portrayal other than sporadic blasts of gunfire, relegating “Pelham” instantly to the levels of forgettable that it’s highly content to roll in. The support is peppered with good actors but none are given a part worthy of their talent, Gandolfini is enjoyable to watch as the mayor but it’s hardly a complex or intriguing character. Similarly John Turturro’s natural ability makes him a sufferable screen presence but his hostage negotiator is a lame duck entity.

Whilst it never enjoys more than infrequent success in the arena, “Pelham” 2009 is at its best when it focuses on the mind games between Ryder and Garber. Outside of this it resorts to ridiculous car chases and needlessly idiotic stunt work, suggesting that audiences won’t be able to take the quieter and more though provoking stuff without a dose of over budgeted and moronic action. On a technical level the action is well performed but it serves no purpose and only goes on to insult the intelligence of the average viewer. This being a Tony Scott venture we are also treated to all manner of coked up camera trickery and irritating visuals, the excessively awkward shot-making utilized on even the few refined and raw moments that this retread offers. The soundtrack goes no way to helping matters; it’s a blend of generic scoring and massively irritating rap records. I hate to hark back to the opening credits again, but it’s blurring of over directed nothingness and crass hip-hop really says all that needs to be said about this trite and unrewarding trespass.

The finish caves in via gunfire and car pursuits before collapsing in a heap of psychological twaddle. Several of the one to one conversations that “Pelham” 09 offers are actually decent but the moment that Scott chooses to end proceedings on is predictable and boring. Whilst the opening 90 minutes are a fairly robust example of poor filmmaking themselves, somehow the whole thing manages to feel anticlimactic. It’s a testament to Tony Scott’s skill as a filmmaker that he can make one pine for the prior levels of mediocrity, simply by deploying a piss poor conclusion. Oh on a final note the last shot also happens to be a cheesy old freeze frame, one can only wish that the studio backing this crass remake had frozen the project itself after day one.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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