Opening with 99 Problems by Jay-Z, The Taking of Pelham 123 is an exciting and gripping thriller about a group of criminals who hijack a subway train in New York. It’s based on a novel of the same name written by John Godey and basically a remake of the 1974 adaptation. However, do not think this is some old-school boring stuff because it most certainly is not. This is a heart-pounding, suspenseful, and fun rollercoaster ride. I expected nothing less from Tony Scott, the man who brought us Top Gun, The Last Boy Scout, Enemy of the State, Man on Fire, and other cool movies.
The only thing that I didn’t like was that fast-moving camera. I mean, we get it, this is a modern movie but could we just sit still for a hot minute? Other than that, everything was up to code. The production values were excellent which means that the sets looked realistic. Something that will be very important for people who take the iconic New York subway every day. And the cast was excellently led by cool Denzel Washington and intense John Travolta. I think this is one of his best roles so far. And we also shouldn’t forget about James Gandolfini who plays the mayor who’s a cross between Giuliani and Bloomberg.
The Taking of Pelham 123 is a movie showing you how the subway system actually works and what would happen if someone targeted it. After all, one of the main characters in the movie is a train dispatcher. The story is unfolding in real-time and there won’t be any boring ass flashbacks or anything like that. This is a lean and mean thriller with a relatively short running time that hits the ground immediately. I mean, the whole thing kicks off within the opening ten minutes. And from that moment on, the suspense just keeps building and building. It reminded me of the final third of an eighties classic Runaway Train, starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.
It is just another busy day at work for New York subway dispatcher Walter Garber. He’s busy making sure that the subway system keeps working as least as well as it’s working now. However, this day will be very different from all the others. A group of skilled criminals takes control of a train full of passengers and demands $10 million. Their main point of contact is Walter who has to make all the arrangements. And then things start to get slowly out of hand.
I have to admit that I was expecting a bit more action out of The Taking of Pelham 123. Probably because of so many familiar faces that reminded me of all those nineties action movies. This is more of an odd seventies throwback thriller keeping its cards close to the chest to maintain the tension. It narrowly avoids being over-the-top and keeps chugging forward. The finale could’ve been better but by that time you’re already invested in the story and the characters. Finally, if you’re looking for movies like The Taking of Pelham 123, check out Unstoppable and Money Train.
Director: Tony Scott
Writers: Brian Helgeland, John Godey
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, James Gandolfini, Luis Guzmán
Fun Facts: Shipped to theaters under the code name “Watch Your Step”.