The Taking of Pelham 123 (The Remake) Review

First, I really liked this movie. A lot. It shares the same basic concept as its predecessor — the 1974 cult classic with Walter Matthau as Garber — a role which Denzel Washington does a fantastic job with in this remake. But John Travolta has nothing on Robert Shaw in the original. The concept is the same: hijack a subway car for an absurd amount of money and then stage a perfect getaway. The difference is huge, though, because this isn’t the same movie.

I am a fan of that original film (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) and have been for years. It’s real, gritty film shot in a subway and showing the full operational details behind it. Being a subway freak, you knew I’d fall in love with it when I first saw it. Please, see the original. The original has Jerry Stiller (really) and James Broderick in it as well. The original is a great suspense picture and is not to be missed. It’s rooted firmly in realism and details; and they get a lot of them right, too. A line like “Pelham 1-2-3 is in motion” makes your spine tingle — something the new one never manages.

The remake is a good film too, but it’s not the same film other than you know what will happen at the end. (Spoiler Free). This was a Michael Mann film and, as such, the camera direction is dizzying, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. A jumpy camera tells no story, improves no story, and just says ‘this guy is trying to be a pretentious filmmaker at the expense of the story’. As I’ve already said Denzel Washington is phenomenal in this film, a perfect ten. Travolta is good, and I’m not dissing him, but he’s no Robert Shaw who was awesome. This film has far less detective work and far more action so it will appeal more to modern audiences. But you lose a little when you let go of the heady suspense film and drift toward a less-heady action film, ultimately settling in the middle somewhere. Washington and Travolta playing off each other is quite enjoyable for sure. And for you subway geeks out there: not nearly as fun as the first, but still fun. (You can pick apart all the errors like I did, though I left them out of here due to wanting to keep my readers awake.)

I have to point out some very serious errors in the film. The film was set during the day, a nice sunny day, the train when it was underground had an inexplicably wet windscreen covered in raindrops. Which vanish and return repeatedly. So did some of the above ground trains moving along in the sun. This is a major slippage of detail. Also bugging me was the fact that while this was happening, trains continued to run — through the whole film — on the track next to the hijacked train. Can you imagine them running live trains three feet away from people with automatic weapons in New York City? I thought not. And since there were people walking on the track, and the power was off, I’m not quite sure how the trains were running to begin with. They also make a point of some kid’s laptop going off with a dead battery. Later in the film he uses it again. I can pretty much guarantee there are no laptop-chargers on subway trains.

The film is rated R based on language. While there is some violence, most of it would pass as a PG-13 nowadays.

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