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Saturday, 16 January 2010

Review: The Taking of Pelham 123, dir Tony Scott (2009)

The film opens with trains and a disparate group of men - none of whom you'd want your daughter to bring home for dinner - holding bulky bags while standing on platforms. One guy has a beard, another looks foreign, the third is Hispanic. Then there's John Travolta with a tattoo of a gun on his neck.

With an opening sequence like this, meshed with a hard-core soundtrack and cut with images of the city of New York, you might think: terrorism. But the DVD case and the title say: robbery.

Without wishing to spoil the movie for those who haven't seen it, the reality is that it's an amalgam of both.

Travolta's Ryder hijacks the train with his band of hard men and contacts rail transit officer Garber - played by a bulked-up Denzel Washington - so that he can get the money the heist is ostensibly about. But the true story only comes out during their conversations, some of which are overheard by the city mayor - played by James Gandolfini.

Putting together the clues provided by a visual link in the form of an open Skype connection between a hostage and his girlfriend back home in the city, the mayor and the police isolate the real reason Ryder has taken the train. It's to do with stock market reactions to terrorist attacks. The fact is that the price of gold routinely rises as the US dollar plunges, whenever an attack takes place.

Ryder has been out of prison two weeks and "seed money" from his earlier, white-collar crime has been used to buy gold. Using a laptop in the train's driver's compartment, Ryder watches his profits surge as news of the heist filters out through the media.

The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul Byrnes called the movie - which is a classic straight-to-video, if you ask me - "mechanical and unspirited" but at least it's vaguely interesting. The dialog isn't bad and the visual effects - it's shot in a dark, slightly grungy way - are fun.

The violence is unconvincing, which is a major drawback in a film where fear should play a role.

For a quiet night at home with a pizza, The Taking of Pelham 123 is as rewarding as a lot of movies are. But if you miss it, you're not missing much.

1 comment:

Craig Ryan said...

This is remake of a – much, much better –1974 film starring Walter Matthau, with the same title.