Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini
Director: Tony Scott
Running Time: 106 mins
The Taking Of Pelham 123 is an American film about a subway control operator who finds himself at the centre of a major hijacking incident, when a criminal gang take a subway car hostage and will only negotiate with him.
While it looks like a straight-to-DVD action film on the outside, The Taking Of Pelham 123 is actually an immensely enjoyable film, with entertaining performances, fast pacing and even a sprinkling of real, gritty tension too. It may not be the deeply intelligent thriller it often tries to be, but it works first and foremost as a quick-paced action thriller that you’ll have great fun with from start to finish.
First off, I want to talk about the performances, which are light years better then they ever deserved to be in a film like this. Again, neither Washington nor Travolta are given the opportunity to really strut their stuff due to a relative lack of depth in the screenplay, but the pair are hugely entreating right the way through, while also impressing hugely in roles that neither is particularly known for.
While we’ve seen Denzel Washington in an official capacity before in the likes of The Bone Collector and Training Day, The Taking Of Pelham 123 puts him in the shoes of a more timid, reserved man. He still has the effortless charisma of any Denzel Washington character before, but there’s an added dimension in his more introverted side, something that in turn makes his relationship with the explosive Travolta even more gripping.
And speaking of John Travolta, this has to be one of his very best performances in a really long time. Action has never been the actor’s strongest ground, but he puts in a hugely entertained shift here as a fiery-tempered criminal who poses a real danger to the people he has taken hostage. Again, there are deeper elements of the character that the film tries to explore further that don’t quite work, namely his beliefs in class war and social inequalities, but the performance is so full of energy that you can’t help but have great fun with it, and equally feel a little unnerved by just how unpredictable this criminal is.
Beyond the two main characters, however, The Taking Of Pelham 123 still has an immensely entertaining charm that works both on a simple, blockbuster level, and also hits on a grittier level from time to time. It’s not a film that will make your skin crawl or make you fear ever taking the subway again, but it has the fast-paced fun factor of an action film like Speed or even Die Hard to entertain to the full from beginning to end.
It’s not an unpredictable, breathless affair, but director Tony Scott does a brilliant job at injecting as much fun-loving, purely entertaining energy into every scene, all strung together with a brilliantly rapid pace that makes what could have been a painfully simplistic and possibly dull film really rather good fun to watch throughout.
Overall, I had a blast with The Taking Of Pelham 123. An exciting, fast-paced and most of all immensely entertaining affair, it does so much with a film that at first looks like it belongs in the discount bargain bin, all the while featuring two great performances from Denzel Washington and John Travolta in roles that aren’t what you’d normally expect from them, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.5.