In early afternoon, four armed men hijack a subway train in Manhattan. They stop on a slight incline, decoupling the first car to let the rest of the train coast back. Their leader is Ryder; he connects by phone with Walter Garber, the dispatcher watching that line. Garber is a supervisor temporarily demoted while being investigated for bribery. Ryder demands $10 million within an hour, or he’ll start shooting hostages. He’ll deal only with Garber. The mayor okays the payoff, the news of the hostage situation sends the stock market tumbling, and it’s unclear what Ryder really wants or if Garber is part of the deal.
Genres: Action/Adventure, Thriller, Crime/Gangster and Remake; Release Date: July 24th, 2009 (wide)
Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Brian Haley
Directed by: Tony Scott
I’m behind on writing reviews. We watched this on DVD a couple of weekends ago. We never saw this in the theater. I wasn’t expecting much from this remake of the original, especially with Travolta in a starring role, and because it was a remake by an explosion-happy director (Tony Scott). But, it was actually not too bad, with some nice plot twists.
Of course, the biggest reason the movie succeeds is Denzel Washington. Washington plays a disgraced (investigation pending) transit executive who’s currently slumming as the control chief. On his shift, naturally, a 1:23 train out of Pelham (New York City) suddenly stops in the middle of its run, and a hijacker demands $10 million to be delivered in exactly one hour, or passengers start dying unnaturally.
What makes this a little more than your typical cat-and-mouse game is the undercurrent of what’s gotten Washington’s character into hot water, as well as Travolta’s character’s actual motives.
Washington and Travolta play off each other very nicely, with Washington’s flawless portrayal of a flawed man far more convincing than Travolta’s garden-variety unhinged wacko. Essentially, Washington was good enough to counterbalance Travolta’s overacting. Washington’s Walter Garber is unsure of himself, an actual Everyman thrust into a madman’s master plan.
There are some changes from the original, true, but they don’t seem contrived; for example, Walter Matthau was a transit cop in the 1974 version, not some under-investigation suit.
The action is tense throughout, especially since you assume that the hijackers are going to have to murder someone at some point (otherwise, why have a deadline?) Somehow, the movie manages to be gripping and realistic without being over the top. There are some minor bouts of nonsense, and maybe in the final 20 minutes or so it’s a little by the numbers in its approach to action, but overall it’s not bad at all. It’s certainly a lot better than I’d expect a John Travolta movie to be, but maybe that’s because he’s the bad guy here, and they’re expected to be over the top.