The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
DVD Release: 02.29.00
1 hour, 44 minutes
The Taking of Pelham 123
1 hour, 46 minutes
1 hour, 46 minutes
Synopsis: One Two Three and 123
Four armed men hijack a subway train in New York. After stopping the train between stations, they uncouple the main car and use the passengers within as bargaining chips to extort money from the City. An unlucky Transit Authority employee receives the ransom call and becomes the primary liaison between the gunmen, the mayor and NYPD as the one-hour deadline approaches.
One Two Three
Lt. Garber (Walter Matthau, JFK) of the New York City Transit Police is pulled from entertaining visiting Japanese businessmen to negotiate with the lead gunman, Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw, From Russia With Love). Matthau slips into the role like a comfortable pair of sneaks.
Shaw's demeanor lets audiences, and Garber, know from moment one that he means business. Also, in the seventies English accents gave the baddies an added sense of notoriety (see also Star Wars). He's cold and calculating, unlike his men, Green (Martin Balsam, Death Wish 3), Grey (Hector Elizondo, TV: Monk) and Brown (Earl Hindman, 3 Men and a Baby). As a disgruntled ex-motorman, Green supplies the knowledge and little else. Meanwhile, Grey is the stereotypical sleaze with an itchy trigger finger and a leering eye. Brown, like the name implies, takes all the shit.
The passengers are a mixed bag of old folks, business people, streetwalkers, a mother and her children, an unconscious homeless person and an undercover policeman. Shots of their frightened and disgusted faces convey the imminent danger they all face. The passengers are fearful, but do nothing stupid to risk retribution. As things inevitably go wrong for both Garber and Blue, the thrill of the perilous events never wanes. The film climaxes before the final moments, and the villains' just desserts are delivered in more of a whimper than a bang.
Walter Garber (Denzel Washington, Out of Time) has been demoted to traffic control. Allegedly, Garber took a bribe from Japanese train manufacturers to recommend a specific model to his superiors at the NYC Transit Authority. He seems like a good guy so it really sucks when he's on the receiving end of Ryder's (John Travolta, Broken Arrow) ransom demands. Even after NYPD's hostage negotiator Camonetti (John Turturro, Transformers) arrives, Garber is the only person that can keep Ryder from murdering hostages.
The hostages are a mother and child, a veteran, a businessman and a little bitch boy with a laptop. They talk a lot, but mainly annoy audiences more than provide any sense of tension or peril. Likewise, the ex-motorman Phil Ramos (Luis Guzmán, Confidence) complains more than assists with his three lines of dialogue, and the two remaining unnamed henchmen are faceless mercenaries quick to fire off their weapons in lieu of actually speaking. The task of instilling fear lies solely on the character of Ryder. Director Tony Scott (Man on Fire) keeps Travolta reigned in just to the left of corny. Sadly, Ryder's stache looks like a permanent stain from the nine years of rimjobs he dished out in prison. That along with his veiny neck makes him about as believable a Wall Street trader as Vin Diesel was in Boiler Room.
The exchanges between Washington and Travolta generate the most tension in 123. Washington could make a movie where he sleeps on a sofa for ninety minutes and it'd be enthralling. 123 stumbles because the subway car full of hostages, several armed gunmen, and scrambling NYPD officers are underutilized and ultimately ineffectual in advancing the story. When those supporters are called up to bat, it's Scott's patented epileptic mish-mash of blurs and screams which leave a hollow disconnected feeling to the events. 123's climax is gripping, but the gravity of the day's events appear as easily forgotten as this movie will be.
The Money Shot: One Two Three and 123
Having seen both One Two Three and 123, I couldn't help but think of the original Star Trek episode Mirror, Mirror. For those unfamiliar, Kirk finds himself on an alternate universe's Enterprise with an evil, bearded Spock by his side. Everything seems strikingly similar to Kirk's Enterprise, but the crew's motivations are skewed to devious purposes.
While the premise of both One Two Three and 123 remains largely unchanged, there's an fundamental shift in theme. One Two Three has texture and you understand every character's motivation, much like Kirk's beloved Enterprise crew. 123 concerns itself more with dressing up the scenery with flashy displays and strange facial hair, but wastes little energy creating a lasting impression.