The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 - Catholic Courier

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

NEW YORK (CNS) — Coming on the heels of an FBI report that again ranked New York the safest big city in the country, a remake of the 1974 film “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” (Columbia/MGM) — about the hijacking of a Gotham subway train — may seem an anachronism.
 
The earlier screen version of novelist John Godey’s best-seller, after all, was emblematic of the metropolis at its financial and social nadir.
 
Perhaps that’s why the updated version repeatedly references terrorism. But that’s a label its all-American villain, known as Ryder (John Travolta), rejects with disgust. A psychopath with (it develops) a grudge against the city’s bureaucracy, Ryder leads a small gang that includes Phil Ramos (Luis Guzman), a disgruntled former transit worker.
 
With Ramos’ guidance, they seize the titular Lexington Avenue line train — named for its Bronx destination and departure time — and demand a $10 million ransom for its passengers, to be paid within an hour. For each minute over that limit, one of the hapless straphangers will be killed.
 
A cross section of urban types, these include a mother and her young son, an African-American Army vet and a teen skateboarder who’s busy tele-flirting with his girlfriend via the Internet when the takeover occurs.
 
Above ground in the Rail Control Center, train dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is on the receiving end of Ryder’s ultimatum. As they communicate over the intercom, Ryder takes an eccentric shine to Garber, whom Ryder assumes is merely a dutiful functionary.
 
But, as Ryder eventually discovers, Garber is actually a high-ranking transit official temporarily demoted while under investigation for bribery. Brian Helgeland’s script uses this development to pit the pair in a psychological duel while also exploring various shades of guilt and decency.
 
The thuggish-looking Ryder, who sports a handlebar mustache and a dark woolen cap, was raised Catholic, a fact which still influences him, though at times in a skewed way.
 
Thus he compares talking to Garber from the dimly lit confines of the subway conductor’s cubicle to being in the confessional, and uses the doctrine of original sin to assert that “no one is innocent,” including his hostages. “We all owe God a debt,” he repeatedly says.
 
Later, when faced with a moral choice, Ryder pauses to pray — apparently sincerely — and ultimately makes the right decision.
 
Ryder’s overall personality, we learn, is just as erratic as his attitude toward faith. Though now seemingly capable of anything, his history, like Garber’s, is morally checkered.
 
Washington’s understatement and Travolta’s wild-man dramatics successfully complement each other, and their mental sparring makes for an intriguing contest. James Gandolfini shows his range in the role of the unnamed mayor, who shares nothing with his Tony Soprano persona except a sardonic wit. John Turturro is equally assured as police negotiator Lt. Jack Cambria.
 
But be warned: Director Tony Scott’s briskly suspenseful thriller is gritty, with interludes of gory violence such as the graphically portrayed shooting deaths of two police officers. And coarse language is relentless throughout.
 
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.

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