The Taking of Pelham 123 Review: Stylized Hostage Caper Meets Substance


Taking a close look at Tony Scott’s resume it’s quite obvious that Mr. Scott’s plot preference is to tell stories that contain quite a bit of violence and an atmosphere that is unforgiving and gritty. When you deal with a particular tone or style enough you eventually grow into it making it part of your image and with such films as True Romance and Man on Fire at his side Mr. Scott has certainly developed an original presentation style. Now add Tony Scott’s new hostage caper The Taking of Pelham 123 as a matured addition of his own unique style that goes beyond his typical approach to gritty filmmaking adding enough substance and character to make this an enjoyable theater experience. Creating enough intensity and having control of an unusual cast that makes these characters their own, Tony Scott utilizes his greatest strength in his filming style to make an interesting and appealing hostage film that will unfortunately go unnoticed amongst some of the bigger releases of the summer.

Playing around with some interesting concepts, such as redemption and fate vs. luck, the story of The Taking of Pelham 123, while a remake, is still accomplished justly in this adaptation of John Godey’s novel. A group of hijackers led by a man known as Ryder, in an appropriately exaggerated performance from John Travolta, take control of a New York City subway train requesting ten million dollars for the hostage’s release. Between Ryder and his money is a civil servant employee Walter Garber, effectively played by Denzel Washington in a controlled and believable performance, who has the unfortunate position playing the hostage negotiator and must balance the delicate situation in his favor before hostages die once the hour deadline approaches. Tony Scott is able to direct these conversation exchanges with finesse and diligence allowing the story and character interactions to take shape and grab the attention of the audience with it’s vulgar yet interesting twists and turns. The upper hand between the two men changes sporadically giving the life of the story a sort of realistic and vibrant tone which brings potency to the characters that keeps you guessing what might happen next considering the unpredictable nature of both men. The intense atmosphere of the story, the gritty and explicit violence, and the finely molded characters brought to fruition with the help of a talented cast make the general storyline of The Taking of Pelham 123 well worth the theater experience.

taking-of-pelham-12Tony Scott definitely has a distinctive production style and it’s obvious once the beginning credits start rolling. The fast paced elapse changes in time, the fluid camera work, the coarse image display are all a part of his mind engaging cinematic style that makes you pay attention whether the story is good or not, such as the not so memorable Déjà vu or Domino. However, this time around Scott’s style has met enough substance, relating to the personal attributes of the characters, making it a worth while film to be engaged in. Some of the shots are extremely well framed and the constant moving images are controlled and steady, creating a hectic but not chaotic atmosphere. The presentation of the story puts you deep into the hostage situation making you feel as if you’re a part of the intensity and begin to feel for Walter Garber as a person and get side swiped when you realize Ryder’s words, “no one is innocent,” are in fact a reality, a sort of gritty reflection of our own world. However, where there is wrong doing there is also a chance for redemption and coming to terms with ourselves, which the film explores extremely well, providing a more profound and redeeming hostage film experience compared to most others.

While the film as a whole is well made there are some minor aspects of the film that could have been improved upon, mainly some of the dialogue. Most of it appears natural and the fluidity of the conversations are just some of the examples, but the vulgarity and the excessive use of cuss words, while not insensitive, are just indicators of some bad writing techniques that feel excessive crude language is a reflection of reality. This could be the case but when an ex-wall street executive is spouting off the f-word as if it were the only adjective, verb, and noun he knows then it gets a tad bit overused. Another minor weakness of the film is some unexplored or rather some underdeveloped subplots, mainly one between a young couple exchanging sentiments from an online computer. These sorts of inconveniences to the story at large seem unnecessary and distract from the larger film experience rather than aiding it. But as the production stands at a whole these trivial criticisms don’t bring you out of your commitment to the story in the long run due to its dedication to the main focal points involving the main characters.

taking-of-pelham-123Surprisingly well developed and intensely enthralling, The Taking of Pelham 123 is one of Tony Scott’s better films that combines the uniqueness of his style along with an interesting story that has more to offer than most action films released this summer. John Travolta and Denzel Washington’s chemistry works also quite well, allowing for Travolta to present a more matured version of his previously exaggerated performances while Denzel breaks away from his usual typecast roles, like in John Q or Out of Time, embracing the true reluctance of a man who must face his exterior and interior challenges. This film is appropriately stylized and shows that Scott can add substance to his style rather than leaving it behind for pure grittiness. Unfortunately the release timing is in between a few higher blockbuster contenders, most likely leaving it behind despite the film having enough quality to deserve attention compared to its senseless action counterparts.

Grade: B

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