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The Taking of Pelham 123: Tracking Tension

<p>Travolta and Washington’s hostage drama is one fast-paced, tension-filled ride.</p>
| Jun 17, 2009
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Life in New York City runs at a breakneck pace. To get from one point to another, people are rushing to cars, cabs, and subways. When a group headed by the enigmatic “Ryder” (John Travolta) decides to take over a subway train designated “Pelham 123”, taking hostages and demanding a $10M ransom, the entire city takes notice. It’s just trains dispatcher Walter Garber’s (Denzel Washington) bad luck that he’s been chosen to negotiate with Ryder and his terrorists.

From the opening credits onward, The Taking of Pelham 123 immerses you in the fast pace of life in the Big Apple. Differing from past works by Tony Scott like Top Gun, Crimson Tide, and Man on Fire, this particular flick’s jump cuts and quicker pacing is more in the line of Scott’s Enemy of the State and Domino. As a remake of a 1974 film of the same name, the filmmakers had to update a terrorist attack into a hi-tech, post-911 world: laptops, Wi-Fi, cellular phones, animated schematics, and webcams are used liberally and effectively. Washington takes over from Walter Matthau’s Garber while Travolta updates Robert Shaw’s role as lead hostage taker.

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A main selling point for the film is the interaction between stars Washington and Travolta. It’s rare to see Travolta play a villain, and his Ryder is an over-the-top, calculating man who sometimes acts like a petulant child when he doesn’t like what he hears. Washington’s performance calls to mind his role in Spike Lee’s 2006 movie Inside Man, negotiating with a bank robber then and a train robber now. It was interesting to present his Walter Garber as a flawed character who’s been accused of taking a bribe, as it provided an entry point for Ryder to have some empathy with him.

WORDS: Jason Inocencio

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