"The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" is a solid modern action thriller, a typical Tony Scott movie which features plenty of style whilst also featuring two powerful characters played by Denzel Washington and John Travolta. The trouble is that it isn't a modern movie, it's a remake of the 1974 movie "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" and if you have watched the 1974 version the remake will disappoint. It will disappoint not because of the Tony Scott snappy style or for the performances from Denzel Washington or John Travolta but because what was an intelligent thriller is now just an action thriller which works on action, style and characters rather than mystery. To make it clearer the original was all about the mystery of how criminals were going to pull off the crime and how they were going to get caught, this version is about the action and the characters played by Washington and Travolta.
For Walter Garber (Denzel Washington - The Great Debaters) it is just another day as he controls the New York subway system, that is till the Pelham 1 2 3 stops and he finds himself talking to Ryder (John Travolta - Hairspray) who along with some other men has taken control of the train and wants ÂŁ10,000,000 within an hour or else the passengers are going to start dying. With the Mayor (James Gandolfini) agreeing the ransom it is a race to get the money across town whilst Garber tries to keep Ryder calm and talking, not easy when Ryder pokes into his personal business and the bribe he is supposed to have taken leading to his demotion.
So in fairness "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" works as a modern action thriller and is very typical of a Tony Scott movie. We start with plenty of snappy editing as we watch various people board a subway train before seeing Ryder and Ramos hijack it. There is mystery as to what they are up to and further mystery surrounding Garber who we learn has been demoted but for what. And it quickly gets to the main part of the movie where we have Garber trying to keep Ryder from killing people whilst the money is raced across the town.
Now "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" is not just a like for like remake of the original and a good job too as we have some nice modern elements such as a passenger with a laptop with webcam adding a nice twist to things. And the actual storyline doesn't play out in the exact same way as the original delivering a very different ending to the 1974 version which works for modern audiences.
But the thing is that in updating and remaking the intelligence of the original movie is lost. Where as the 1974 movie had us wondering how the criminals were going to escape there is none of that this time. And the amusing but smart ending of the original which was full of atmosphere is lost in favour of what now feels routine action. It works for modern audiences who enjoy their thrill from snappy editing and action but a disappointment for those who enjoyed the ingenuity of the original.
Having said that "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" has two very enjoyable performances thanks to Denzel Washington and John Travolta. So much of the movie focuses on the conversations across the radio between Garber and Ryder that they had to be strong and both Washington and Travolta have that with Washington delivering control whilst Travolta gives us edgy mad man.
What this all boils down to is that as a remake "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" works for modern audiences who will enjoy the action and big character performances. But for those who enjoyed the cleverness of the original it will seem so ordinary as intelligence is lost in favour of style and action.