The Taking Of Pelham 123 - Blu-ray Review

'no matter what he's doing, Travolta has the presence to pull it off and that presence is compelling'

Star power will inevitably drag a film up from the gutter. Take The Bucket List as an arbitrary example. It's a decent premise with a so-so script and some messy execution but because it has Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in the lead roles, you watch it, find yourself interested in it and probably, are eventually charmed by two leads doing what they do best. The Taking Of Pelham 123 is very similar. It's a recycled film which doesn't really have anything new to offer the action-thriller genre, accompanied by an uninspired script and the now customary choppy direction from Tony Scott. But hey, its leads are Denzel Washington and John Travolta and you can't argue that that doesn't equal some mesmerizing star power.

123's setup is full of very simple action movie staples. Ryder (Travolta), a 'terrorist' (and there is some lip service to what that word actually means), jumps on a train in New York with a crew armed to the teeth. Leaving the train parked underground, Ryder takes hostages and demands a ransom, stipulating that the only person he will talk to is Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), a demoted transit authority employee who happened to take his first call.

From that premise, Scott attempts to establish a compelling but simple duologue between the two as the untrained Garber tries to negotiate with Ryder for the hostage's safe release. The director is marginally successful and a sub-plot surrounding Garber's demotion brings in plenty of tension in both locations and a genuine emotional attachment for Washington's character. Where Scott isn't successful however, is in recycling the same tried-and-tested, jump/cut directing style that we've seen almost shot for shot in Enemy Of The State, Man On Fire, Spy Game and Deja Vu. It has its moments and quick cuts to sped up and slowed down shots of the city we happen to be in have there place but they're quickly becoming Scott's only mark as a director and in 123 in particular, having seen all of its previous uses, it felt more of a distraction than anything, taking us out of the otherwise claustrophobic train cab and transit authority office.

Scott's conclusion too is a struggle to rationalise. It's not ruining anything to say that there has to be some sort of confrontational pay off at the end of all this but it feels cheap and undershot and denies us the satisfaction of seeing Travolta and Washington do something meaningful head-to-head, Mano-a-Mano. Whilst I'll accept that this type of conclusion is what the film needs, Scott fails to anchor it in the context of his characters. We all know Denzel Washington is capable of being the all-action hero (Man On Fire) but Walter Garber just isn't that character, something which Scott either chooses to forget or to ignore out of the necessity of bringing us a rounded ending featuring both our main players.

Ultimately though, despite their confrontation being a damp squib, it is these two main players that make 123 a watchable and entertaining, if somewhat generic, spectacle. Travolta is horribly over-acting here as Ryder, who has some contrived reasoning behind doing what he does, but seeing him do that is entertaining in its own right. Often he goes completely off the rails shouting and swearing at passengers or Garber on the other end of the radio but no matter what he's doing, Travolta has the presence to pull it off and that presence is compelling. Washington too, whilst not sharing Travolta's nihilism does create Garber as an individual, struggling at work, with a wife at home and a desire to just get through the day. Garber's full story isn't necessarily on show here but through Washington's zen-like handling of the character he creates the opposing magnet to Ryder's out of control maniac and really, that's all we need.

Look further...

'As a summer blockbuster, this is a disappointment that should only be provided consideration if The Proposal is sold out' - Bitchin' Film Reviews, 2/4


  1. I do agree with your assessment that this was the best movie of 2009

  2. Is that a miss-type or something? Where does the review suggest that?

  3. I'm kidding ;) Just checking if you are reading your comments lol

  4. Always mate, always. You've pointed me at some great blogs through them!