Let’s get to what I *don’t* like with “The Taking of Pelham 123” first. Mind you, this might be a little spoiler. Here’s what I don’t like. The plan conceived by Ryder (John Travolta) was pitch-perfect. You might asked why does this become a problem? Now, I can’t answer this without giving a spoiler, can I? However, on overall, I liked this film, and as a psychological thriller, rather than full-blown action, it worked. I even made an inevitable comparison with recently released “Public Enemies” at one scene and I had to admit, I liked the scene on this film a bit better. But it’s just that. The plan was perfect. Not Ocean-style perfect, but more like a-construction-project-perfect.
Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is a subway train dispatch staff. His job, making sure that the subway trains crowding the New York underground travel in a reliable manner throughout its service. Most of the time, he speaks directly to the field staff steering the train itself. He was respected by his peers, but for a reason that will soon be apparent as the film unravels, he had some subtle issue with his superior. Enter Ryder and his crew of three. Precise planning net the Ryder and his crew with a train car, nineteen hostages, and a stationary spot where they could have visuals on both side of the car. Soon, Ryder made a demand and Garber happened to be the man at the end of the mic and when Ryder couldn’t speak to Garber (as the police and their hostage team took over the situation) and reacts violently, Garber became an indispensable asset for the authority to end Ryder’s hostage.
From the get go, I’ve got an impression (and I’d bet, it would be similar to what you’d have) that this film is more about the relationship between Ryder and Garber. It doesn’t matter anymore whether Ryder’s plan is going to carry out and how nor whether Garber and the good team will emerge victorious and how. You would have guessed right away how the film would ends anyway. The film’s interesting and high point was ever lies in the conversation between Garber and Ryder over the wire. On how each tries to dive into the other’s mind, tries to get one step ahead of the other. Also, the fact that Garber isn’t your typical flawless white hero made the film that much more interesting. Garber was described as an average Joe, an average working man with a family to feed back home, and a certain record that marred his professional reputation. Not unlike you and me, and therefore made the film more engaging and believable. Ryder, even if I could not say whether he was not unlike you and me (after all, I couldn’t say if you, or me, has a tendency to hijack a train full of innocents), as a villain, his personality is strong, certain, and rarely hesitant. In itself, Ryder proves to be a formidable villain without excessive showmanship of power.
Certainly, as the film deals almost exclusively with Ryder / Garber relationship, the burden to bring the film’s excitement lies on Mr.Washington and Mr.Travolta and most of the time, I could believe that Mr.Travolta could singlehandedly delivers the task. I was excited when Ryder met Garber for the first time. This scene, in my opinion, it’s more exciting than the scene where Mr.Bale met Mr.Depp for the first time in “Public Enemies” (the comparison was inevitable). The supporting casts, even if they had brief appearances are a bit more than average as well. At least, John Turturro and James Gandolfini are immediately identifiable and has enough moments to get noticed. All in all, even if I felt the ending was too much drama and too cliche to my liking, the film worked most of the time and I had a great time enjoying it.
My rating: *** / **** Some may object with many of Tony Scott’s signature shots which probably are nauseating to some. My only objection is how Mr.Scott chooses to end the film. That, and the error-free plan of Ryder. Otherwise, the psychological thriller, the chess game, the characters and the sense of urgency was in average, a bit above good. I don’t really understand why the film had tanked in the box office.