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The taking of...nearly two hours of my life
The Taking of Pelham 123  (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
The Taking of Pelham 123  (DVD)
Advantages: Travolta and Washington are great
Disadvantages: The story's not that great
Walter Garber, a transport officer who is being investigated for bribery and has been demoted, goes to work as a dispatcher. His life takes an interesting turn when he is contacted by Ryder, the head of a team of armed men who have taken a subway train and its passengers hostage. Ryder wants a huge sum of money to be brought to him and, despite the attempts of police to persuade him otherwise, he will only deal with Garber. He proves that he is serious by killing one of the hostages. It is then up to Garber to deal with Ryder and to try to keep the hostages alive. Without any formal negotiating skills, will he be successful? Or will Ryder get away with the money and the lives of his hostages?
Based on the 1974 film of the same name, this 2009 film stars John Travolta as Ryder and Denzil Washington as Garber. Travolta gives a magnificent performance as the horrific Ryder, who seems to have absolutely no compunction about killing as many people as it takes to get what he wants. He really seems to have no morals at all and there is a real air of menace about him. The only thing that I thought was missing was any kind of background to him. There is no mention of the motivation for his crime and, bearing in mind he surely must have had some kind of motivation, I thought this gap was rather a big one.
There is a little more information on Garber in that we know he is being investigated for bribery, although he denies it and it has never been proved. We also know that he has a significant other, because she rings him a couple of times in a panic, having seen the news on television. And Washington certainly holds the role together with a solid performance that culminates in a really excellent scene. At the same time, I couldn't help but feel that for much of the film, the role is rather dull. I don't think that is entirely down to Washington though - I think it is simply that there isn't all that much plot and Washington is on screen for just that bit too long.
There are a couple of other notable performances. John Turturro plays Camonetti, the police officer in charge of the case. I thought he did well, because although I knew I recognised him, it took me a while to realise that it was Turturro of Mr Monk fame. His mannerims were certainly very different. James Gandolfini is also good as the Mayor, who he portrays as a complete idiot, and is very far from his Sopranos character. There were a number of other characters, but none that made an impact, or were even on screen for more than a couple of minutes.
The main problem with the film for me is simply that there isn't much in the way of the plot. This leaves a great space for Travolta and Washington to fill - yet despite great performances, there is no background to their characters and so the whole thing just falls flat. I didn't ever feel the urge to switch off, but there was certainly no moment where I was on the edge of my seat. For that, I need to want the lead characters to live or die according to their levels of evilness - in this case, I really couldn't summon up the enthusiasm. In some ways, it almost felt like a news broadcast, except that, had it been real, I would have been a lot more interested.
There is some action - a lot of car chases as the police attempt to get to Ryder in time. I'm probably not the best person to comment on action, because it rarely does very much for me - and this case is no different. Again, it all comes down to not caring about the characters - had I really wanted Garber to win through, I might have been a bit more interested, but I wasn't. Still, for fans of action, there are some great scenes involving pile-ups and shoot-outs and the like. I merely found it a welcome break from the Ryder/Garber conversations.
That said, the script is probably one of the best parts of the film. I don't know how similar it is to the original film - certainly the screenplay writers are different - but there are some great and witty conversations between Ryder and Garber. At times, they almost seem like best friends and yet it all feels very natural, as if that's exactly how they should be - a sign of a good script as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately, these witty conversations aren't enough to carry the whole film or to make up for the lack of characterisation. They are the best part of the film for me though - I just wish there was more of it.
I don't think this film was atrocious. However, I really cannot find all that much to say about it either. It just didn't grab me, the characters didn't really excite me and by the time that it finished, I just felt rather relieved it was over. I don't know how closely it was based on the original film, but it is certainly hard to understand why it was re-made. Fans of thrillers/action films might just enjoy it, and it is worth seeing for Travolta's performance, but I think it is best to go in with the lowest possible expectations. Three stars out of five.
The DVD hasn't yet been released, although it is available for pre-order on play.com for £11.99. It is due out on 11 January 2010.
Running time: 1 hour and 42 minutes
Summary: Can't get excited about this one