Director Tony Scott
Starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Luis Guzmán, James Gandolfini
Tony Scott has defended his remake of Joseph Sargent’s 1974 subway-hijack thriller by saying the original didn’t make sense…
Sorry, just had to pick ourselves up after hearing the words “make sense” from the guy who once had Keira Knightley escape a room full of gun-wielding goons via a bout of lap-dancing…
If it’s starting to seem that the durable Brit director is joined at the hip with Denzel Washington (three of his last six films have been directed by Scott), at least the latter’s entrusted his career to a stylist who can deliver beefy explosions and jazzy, restless visuals with the best of ’em. What’s more, for the most part Pelham ’09 is the duo’s most level-headed, efficient escapade since Crimson Tide.
Washington plays transit dispatcher Walter Garber, whose ordinary day is hurled into chaos by the handlebar-’tached Ryder’s (John Travolta) audacious hijacking of a Bronx-bound subway train. As the $10m ransom deadline ticks down, Garber becomes a reluctant hostage negotiator, uneasily trading gobbets of personal info with Ryder.
Creepy and cartoony, Travolta gets a meatier backstory than his ’74 counterpart, Robert Shaw’s inscrutable Mr. Blue. Alas, his criminal cohorts (including the neglected-once-again Luis Guzmán) are a faceless batch, with the hostages no better off. Still, the leads share an edgy chemistry that, coupled with the no-nonsense real-time structure, keeps the suspense bubbling.
But eventually, tension cranking and character shading give way to helicopter-swooping excess. Check out the scene where the ransom is hurtled across Manhattan in a speeding-cop-car frenzy, racking up a death toll that surpasses the hostage head count. But it’s the finale where things come undone.
Sargent’s original is no classic, but it did have a nifty just-when-you- think-he-got-away-with-it denouement. Scott was never going to play it that low-key, replacing an apartment face-off with a histrionic bridge showdown.
After the careful, taut build-up, it doesn’t make sense. But at least there’s no lap-dancing…
For a good hour, Scott delivers a tense cat-and-mouser. Goes off track when Denzel turns action hero, but his riffing with a sinister Trav is what propels this Pelham.