The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 Review: Action + Action + Action + Action + Action

When a subway car is taken hostage, it’s left to the dispatcher to save the passengers from the gunmen. Packed with action and sprinkled with emotion, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, based on a book of the same name by John Godey, is a satisfying action-packed escape.

Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is directing motormen through the tunnels of the New York Subway when armed men take control of a train. Ryder (John Travolta), the leader of the team of gunmen, reaches out to Garber through the train communication system and makes his demands. Both Garber and Ryder are underestimated by the NYPD and the MTA. Both prove what they are willing to do to get what they want.

Ryder (Travolta) and Garber (Washington) incrementally elevate the tension through cunning use of diffusion. Ryder raises the heat and Garber turns it down, just in time for Ryder to turn it back on. As the stand-off continues, the characters (and the audience) are unaware that they are being boiled alive like a frog in slowly heated water.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 relies heavily on the relationship between Garber and Ryder. If either doesn’t complete trust the word of the other, lives are lost. It demands that both characters and actors be completely sincere with each other. Washington and Travolta feed well off each other’s performances and convince the audience of the danger on the rail car.

The biggest surprise for me was James Gandolfini. His performance is brief and a bit shallow in the beginning, but at the end, there is a surprisingly earnest moment of humility. The writing is not great but the performance sold the moment.

The heart and soul of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is not the acting or the writing, it’s the action. In the first few minutes there are gunshots, screaming passengers and blood spattered faces. From the time we are introduced to the villains until the plot is resolved, the action almost never stops.
It’s a good thing there is so much action, because some of the plot details left me wanting. Writer Brian Helgeland does great job of writing the dialogue for the main characters, but it all falls a little flat after that. He introduces characters on the train, establishes important details and then lets them go limp on screen.

There is one scene with a sniper that really pissed me off. Most police snipers are trained by the military, and the sniper in the movie just flat ignores basic training taught to military snipers. It could be that he does not know requirements to be a sniper, but a bit of basic research and he wouldn’t have made such a ridiculous mistake.

Even with the story issues, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is an immersive, gun-shooting, train-wrecking, blood-splattering, terrorism action flick that will distract a viewer from even the worst day.

PS (and unrelated to the movie): Hi Felch!

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) Review
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is good action based fun.

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