by Rick Grant
Grade: A- / Rated R / 106 min
Acclaimed director, Tony Scott loves over the edge action sequences, car wrecks, and shooting in New York City. In this scenario adapted by John Godey from Todd Black’s novel, Scott deftly used his directorial talents to the fullest, creating an action movie with a tight script.
The film is a remake from a 1974 film but upgraded exponentially. With Denzel Washington playing the lead role of Walter Garber, the train dispatcher acting as the ad hoc hostage negotiator, and John Travolta playing the scheming ruthless villain, Ryder, the tension and raw energy rises steadily from the first scene.
In this action film, things are not what they seem. Ryder has another motivation besides taking hostages and demanding $10 million in ransom. In contrast, Garber is an unlikely person to be negotiating with Ryder. He has been demoted from the executive branch and accused of taking a bribe to recommend a Japanese train system for the NYC subway. The real police hostage negotiator, Camonetti (John Turturro) is forced by Ryder to let Garber communicate with him exclusively. So, he stays nearby to give Garber advice.
It just so happens that Garber is a natural at talking to Ryder and deflecting his anger. Ryder has proved he will kill hostages and is not afraid to die. So, the police have to rely on Garber to handle Ryder the best he can. The Mayor (James Gandolfini) is brought into the negotiations and authorizes the $10 million ransom. But time is running out, and the car carrying the money has a terrible accident.
At this point, director Scott turns up the tension and suspense. He loves to stage horrific car crashes and other death defying stunts, which add to the suspense. Ryder swears if the money is not there on time he’ll kill another hostage. Since Ryder had been working with a past NYC Subway employee he met in jail, he has a foolproof plan to escape with the money. Garber also has great knowledge of the Subway system.
The tension reaches a boiling point when Ryder insists that Garber deliver the money. Ryder feels a kinship with Garber because of his legal troubles. As Garber makes his way to deliver the money, the Mayor figures out what Ryder is really up to, and directs the police accordingly.
Scott’s frantic style of shooting action adds greatly to the high energy level. But having two A-list actors playing the lead roles enhances the overall quality of the film. Washington is a master of subtle facial expressions as the camera pans into a close up. Travolta plays Ryder with a nuanced balance of macho bravado and keen financial intelligence. He’s playing a high stakes chess game with the City of New York and Garber.
Garber uses his vast knowledge of the Subway system to figure out how Ryder plans to get away. But, things don’t always work out, and Garber ends up on his own. The well written script brings out the dialogue between Ryder and Garber as a psychological game of wits. There is no way to predict the end, as things go south and it’s a cat and mouse game after that.
Master filmmaker Tony Scott consistently delivers quality films that include high octane action and masterfully written scripts. He proved many years ago that action films can have quality dialogue and character driven stories. This is one of Scott’s best films to date. Fasten your seatbelts, and take the ride on Pelham 123.
The Taking of Pelham 123
by Rick Grant