The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) is a remake that exceeds its original 1974 incarnation in depth and character development. In the original film, what the audience saw was what they got. In Scott’s film, not everything is what it seems initially. In the original, the authorities continually and hilariously antagonize (potentially) the leader of the heist crew through all three acts of that film. They assume he is a “fruit cake” because his accent denotes English heritage. It’s humorous and completely unrealistic. In Scott’s film, the authorities take the situation seriously from the outset when they are made aware of the hostage situation.
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) is an almost by-the-numbers heist film. Unlike The General, we do not get to know the main characters as we seemed to in Heat (especially their home life). The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) does try though, dipping its toe into the current circumstances and what makes certain characters act and behave in the way they do. One of the best moments in the film is such a scene. It involves the truth behind Walter Garber (Denzel Washington)’s current predicament in front of a room full of colleagues that respect him and hostage negotiators. It is the finest, well acted, non-action moment in the film.
For all of the nuances add to this incarnation of The Taking of Pelham 123(2009), there were two others made from the book of the same name written by Morton Freedgood, it is not without its flaws. Since The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) is standard Hollywood-fare, like the neophyte structures of The Devil Wears Prada and 21. The viewer, applying minimal logic, already knows what is going to happen to the antagonists and what will most-likely transpire between Ryder and Garber. For the most part, The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) is formula film and as I said earlier, is by-the-numbers: the protagonist and antagonist are introduced, there is a get-to-know-each-other period, the protagonist takes a personal stake in the proceedings, chases bad guy, there is the final, self-righteous confrontation, and then the text book happy ending. This situation was not helped as the commercials for The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) gave away major plot points for its third act. It seems whoever but together those television advertisements could not rely on the fact that it was a Tony Scott film and by default clips of the action and exposition in the first two acts was sufficient to bait the line.
John Travolta’s acting and his character Ryder aka Dennis Ford’s anger towards New York City is a bit hit or miss during the film. Travolta seemed as though he was trying to hard to get Ryder’s message across to Garber and the world at large instead of being subtle and calculating. At the same time, Travolta also supplies the majority of the film’s humorous moments (“He’s got a sexy voice….In prison he would have been my bitch.”), giving audiences a breather from the violence and bloodshed.
James Gandolfini plays the now cliché, because of real world antics, politician and major of New York that (previously) decided to indulge his sexual urges outside of the martial bed. He is the butt of many jokes in The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) yet bares their blunt with a gracious smile and politician’s nonchalance. These people, after all, are potential voters for his party.
Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) is an action heist film that does not reinvent the wheel for the humungous ocean of the genre but does make a few splashes along its runtime. As Ryder asks: “Is this what you thought your day would be like when you put your socks on this morning?” Concerning this film, pretty much.