Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Film Review | The Taking Of Pelham 123 (2009)

It was with sadness that I heard of Tony Scott's death in August last year. Whilst he was never likely to be remembered as a director who created some of the great artistic works in cinematic history, Scott was undeniably a man with passion for and understanding of cinema who directed some of the more memorable entries into the action and thriller genres during his career. The Taking Of Pelham 123 would end up being Scott's penultimate film, and whilst it certainly has some redeeming features, unfortunately it's nowhere near the quality of the director's most successful work.

Scott's film is likely to start on the backfoot with some in the audience before it has even begun, being as it is a remake of the well-respected 1974 film of the same name (and with which I must admit I am not at all familiar), making changes to update the story to a technology-filled post-9/11 New York City. Whilst comparison with 1974 stars Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw may be the route by which some will judge Denzel Washington and John Travolta here, it really isn't necessary. Washington can do this kind of thing in his sleep, and whilst his turn here is perfectly satisfactory, he's never remotely stretched and constantly on auto-pilot. Travolta's performance, however, consists of him shouting and using the word "motherfucker" a lot, occasionally calling John Turturro (another great talent going through the motions) a "greaseball", and at one point using the term "bunghole". At no point will you ever buy into Travolta's character as anything but a fifty-something nutter desperately trying (and failing) to fit into youth gang culture, let alone who he is eventually revealed to be.

Scott manages to build some decent tension through a ticking clock framing device in the opening hour or so, but unfortunately this is squandered through a half-hearted final act which never delivers the fast-paced action needed. By this point Brian Helgeland's script has overcomplicated matters by adding in unnecessary 21st Century adornments to the story and seriously muddling Ryder's (Travolta) motives, leaving those who still care with a frustratingly anticlimactic conclusion.

The Taking Of Pelham 123 ends up as a hotch-potch of elements ranging from above average to quite poor. It's entertaining enough for what it is and never awful, but it also falls short in too many areas to ever become anything memorable. In the end, it's a film which helps to remind you of the great many superior offerings in the action thriller subgenre that are on offer, some of which can be readily found in Scott's own back catalogue.


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