In 1974, when New York was but a young city, a pretty good movie called “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” shrieked onto the screen. Walter Matthau starred as a subway dispatcher forced to deal with the hijacker of a subway train, played by Robert Shaw just before he made “Jaws.” The ransom demands were simple: One million in cash delivered within the hour or hostages would be killed, one hostage per minute.
In the remake, Denzel Washington and John Travolta are great. I tried to watch this movie as an up to date interpretation of John Godey’s book and not a remake of the original film. In my opinion, the mystery and suspense of the book were well portrayed in the movie remake – which is not usually the case.
These are two of my favorite actors playing a mind game that is clever and well executed. Is there any actor in the world who could play a catholic, crazy, smart guy better than John Travolta? -- I’ve been watching him in action since Welcome Back Kotter! -- His last line in this movie is delivered with such anguish, woe, thankfulness and grit that it’s mind blowing. Washington, it seems, doesn’t even have to try. Both these guys could be the people they portray.
The year is now 2009 and the ransom has inflated to $10 million. Washington’s Walter Garber is under a slight cloud for possibly accepting a bribe on the job; we are still led to believe that he’s probably an okay guy. His adversary, Travolta’s Ryder, sports an ugly black mustache and a weird neck tattoo. Always a cool a villain, Travolta also has most of the really good lines in this movie.
Travolta overplays a little while Washington seems to underplay just a tad. James Gandolfini shows up in a droll little part as the mayor, although his character seems like spliced together moments in the careers of other, more newsworthy, people.
Throw in the cash getting tied up in a weird car accident, a NYC subway rat crawling up a pants leg, and a completely normal gallon of milk showing up on the set, and you have all the heart-stopping elements of a halfway decent movie.
In my opinion, the New York City of 1974 was a scarier place to be than NYC is today. 911 has turned the Big Apple into more of a victim than an evildoer. I still think you can’t beat the attitudes of the people of NYC. This movie had plenty of attitude! I’m quite sure that the flick received an R rating for traditional NYC language and violence.
The Taking of Pelham 123, Book by John Godey
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