ReelTalk Movie Reviews  

New Reviews
Jurassic World Domini...
Jazz Fest: A New Orle...
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue ...
more movies...
New Features
Poet Laureate of the Movies
Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks
Score Season #71
more features...
ReelTalk Home Page
Contact Us
Advertise on ReelTalk

Listen to Movie Addict Headquarters on internet talk radio Add to iTunes

Buy a copy of Confessions of a Movie Addict

Main Page Movies Features Log In/Manage

Rate This Movie
 Above AverageAbove AverageAbove AverageAbove Average
 Below AverageBelow Average
Rated 2.97 stars
by 438 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Great Casting
by Diana Saenger

If you do the crime, you do the time -- but only if you get caught. That’s Ryder’s plan. He’s the leader of a highly-armed gang of four in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. With what they believe is a fail-proof getaway plan, Ryder and his crime team take subway hostages for ransom and commandeer a subway train.

Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), a civil servant working for the New York City Transit system, has come under suspicion for a wrong-doing in his job as the MTA administrator. Walter is annoyed and unsure why he’s been assigned as a dispatcher handling the dozens of trains that move the city’s inhabitants from one spot to another.

What Walter is sure about involves his knowledge concerning how the trains work and the tunnel systems they speed through -- which comes in handy when one of the trains suddenly stops moving and he gets a call from Ryder (John Travolta), a criminal mastermind who announces he wants ten million dollars.

Ryder not only toys with Walter, asking him questions and bantering like they’re old friends with the same problems, he also puts a timeline on his demand. He implies that one person will be shot for every unmet deadline, and that all this rests on Walter’s shoulder.

An immediately squirming Walter demands a police negotiator be summoned. When Lt. Camonetti (John Turturro) arrives, he finds Walter handling the situation with Ryder quite well. However, Walter's agitated supervisor orders him to leave and go home.

Within seconds of taking over, Camonetti is told by Ryder that he will talk only to Walter. He threatens to shoot someone if Walter doesn’t get back on the phone right away. Walter is stopped just as he’s leaving the building, but not before Ryder shoots one of his own men in a fit of rage. Camonetti realizes Walter has managed to somewhat handle Ryder’s volcano-like fits and puts Walter back on the phone while advising him on the sideline.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was a novel first adapted into a movie in 1974, with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw co-starring. Filmmakers of the new film took a different approach to the story.  Director Tony Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland sought to create an adrenaline-filled thriller, and their version keeps moviegoers on edge throughout most of the film.

Washington is perfect as the mild-manned Walter, a family man who believes in justice, what’s best for everyone and maybe redemption for himself. Travolta is the crucial mean, angry man who says what he means and doesn’t hesitate one second when he pulls the trigger to prove his point. Death means nothing to a man who is even beating Wall Street at the same time he’s blackmailing the city.

“He’s built up resentment toward the city, feeling betrayed and mistreated,” Travolta said. “I decided he was calculated to some degree, but at the same time, he is a stimulus/response type of guy, meaning you can push his buttons. Say the wrong word, and he goes off.”

Ryder has fun with the Mayor, a man ultimately brought in to speak with Ryder and assure him the money is on the way. James Gandolfini, going from mobster in The Sopranos to the esteemed Mayor of New York City, expertly edges in some of the sarcasm from his TV character. This mayor also has a back story, one Ryder knows about and uses to his advantage.

Turturro appears thoroughly convincing as the cool-under-pressure negotiator. He was prompted by the current commanding officer of the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team, Lt. Jack Cambria, upon whom the role was based. But it’s Turturro’s exceptional talent that helps him nail his character.

“If the job of acting is finding the emotion of a scene, ” Turturro said, “being a cop is about separating your feelings from your job. I’ve played a few cops, I’ve done some research, and I have tremendous respect for what they do. It’s a hard job.”

Luis Guzman and Michael Rispoli round out the main cast, but the other major star of this film is the subway itself. Because the system is frightening, complex and thrives in the mysterious underground of the city, making it feel real was of paramount importance. Filming actually took place in the subways of New York City, including scenes shot with the actors on the track as trains moved past them.

Production companies filming in the subway have to undergo an eight hour safety-training course. That meant the entire cast and crew of some 400 people were required to take the course and learn how to navigate tracks, identify hazards, and most importantly, avoid the electrical contact rail, better known as the third rail where one can lose a limb or a life just by touch. These individuals also had to learn about the danger of an oncoming train, for failing to look both ways is the number one cause of fatalities in the subway. 

Instructions by trainer Bob Willis was implicit. “Center yourself between the columns, press your shoulder against one, place your hand flat against the opposite and don’t move. If you stand with your hands in your pocket, the wind can pull you right in. And don’t stick your neck out to see if the train is coming! The train rumbles down the track with a deafening roar, whipping up dust and dirt (and who knows what else), tall as a building…And don’t turn around to look at it!”

While the film’s middle may be cliché and the ending somewhat predictable, the execution of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is made more enjoyable by its capable lead cast.

(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated “R” for violence and pervasive language.)

Review also posted at

© 2024 - ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Website designed by Dot Pitch Studios, LLC