The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009 film)
|The Taking of Pelham 123|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tony Scott|
|Screenplay by||Brian Helgeland|
|Based on||The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
by John Godey
|Music by||Harry Gregson-Williams|
|Cinematography||Tobias A. Schliessler|
|Editing by||Chris Lebenzon|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures
|Running time||106 minutes|
The Taking of Pelham 123 is a 2009 American thriller film, directed by Tony Scott, and starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta. It is a film adaptation of the novel by Morton Freedgood (writing under the pseudonym John Godey), and is a remake of the original 1974 film adaptation, which was also remade in 1998 as a TV film. Production began in March 2008, and it was released on June 12, 2009.
A man calling himself "Ryder" (John Travolta), along with three other heavily armed men Bashkim (Victor Gojcaj), Emri (Robert Vataj) and former train operator Phil Ramos (Luis Guzmán), take Pelham 123, a New York City Subway 6 train that had departed from Pelham Bay Park Station at 1:23 p.m, uncoupling the front car from the rest of the train and taking the passengers hostage. MTA employee Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), a former assistant chief transportation officer, is working the Rail Control Center (RCC) as a train dispatcher and receives the ransom call from Ryder, who demands $10 million in cash be paid within 60 minutes, and warns that for every minute past the deadline they force Ryder to wait, he will execute a hostage.
Bashkim kills a plainclothes Transit Police officer attempting to arrest him. He and Ramos then allow all the people not in the front car to be released except for motorman Jerry Pollard (Gary Basaraba). Garber reluctantly negotiates with Ryder and develops a rapport, while Ramos and Emri set up a wi-fi booster apparatus to enable Ryder internet access in the tunnel on his laptop computer. He uses it to watch the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunge nearly 1,000 points during the next hour in response to the taking. The booster also reconnects one of the passenger's laptop after it was casually knocked to the floor by the hijackers; its webcam facing the car's interior. The link reestablishes the passenger's videochat to his girlfriend's desktop, which she then gives to a local television station, allowing the authorities to use it as a live feed. It also allows the people at RCC to see what's going on; they see Ramos and Ryder later on.
Lieutenant Camonetti (John Turturro) of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit, also known as the Hostage Negotiation Team, enters RCC to take over negotiations and Garber is ordered by his boss to leave the premises. The change infuriates Ryder, who shoots and kills the train's motorman in order to force Camonetti to bring Garber back.
Camonetti learns Garber is being investigated for allegedly accepting a $35,000 bribe to recommend a Japanese car manufacturer for the next subway car contract, thus his demotion to train dispatching. He becomes suspicious and asks Garber to consent to a search of his home. Ryder also discovers the allegations through online news reports and forces Garber to confess by threatening to kill a passenger. Garber explains he took the bribe to pay his kids' tuition, but also claims that he would have made the same decision regardless of the bribe.
The Mayor (James Gandolfini) agrees to pay Ryder's ransom demand and orders cash from the Federal Reserve to be rushed to Vanderbilt Ave and 42nd Street to be delivered. The police transport delivering the money is involved in an accident and, despite the efforts of police motorcyclists, they fail to deliver within the deadline. Garber tries to bluff and tells Ryder that the tunnel was the only thing separating him from the money, unaware that Ryder could see the outside of Grand Central Terminal via his laptop. For lying, Ryder threatens to execute one of the children hostages and the child's mother; however, another hostage, who was a former US Army Air-Assault Soldier, intervenes and instead gets shot by Ryder. A short gunfight then erupts, in which an NYPD sniper, on being bitten by a rat, accidentally fires his gun and kills Ramos.
Based on several clues that Garber receives during the conversation, the NYPD discover that Ryder's real name is Dennis Ford, a former manager of a private equity firm, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for investment fraud for stealing from the city pension fund. Although Ford had accepted the prosecution's three-year plea bargain agreement, he received a sentence of ten years from the judge. One of the Mayor's aides mentions the extreme drop in the major stock indexes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite, due to the news coverage of the hostage-taking, which some in the media have suspected to be terrorism. The Mayor deduces that such an event would allow Ryder to make spectacular returns if he bet against the market that day (the ransom money not being Ryder's main objective), so he asks the SEC to identify major trades on put options.
Garber is flown to Grand Central Terminal, the closest station to the takers' location, when Ryder demands he personally deliver the ransom. Garber accepts a concealed pistol from a police officer and drops off the money. Ryder brings him aboard and orders him to operate the train to the next station, where he and the hijackers exit the train during a brief railroad switch stop. To ensure that the police follow the train (and go to a wrong place), Ryder uses a special mechanism to lock the driving lever in the full-speed position, bypassing the dead-man's switch. Per Ryder's demands, the signals have been set to green and the train speeds ahead towards Coney Island. Garber manages to separate himself from the takers at a railway crossing and then follows them as they escape to the emergency exit inside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Ryder parts from Bashkim and Emri, who are later shot dead via suicide by cop after being surrounded by police.
The runaway train's automatic brake is tripped by an unaltered red signal one station from Coney Island and it comes to a halt safely. Police learn Ryder is not on board. Ryder hails a taxi while Garber, who gets a truck, is in close pursuit. Ryder checks his laptop and finds that his $2 million investment in gold derivatives has amassed him a $307 million profit. Ryder leaves the cab on the Manhattan Bridge amid traffic and takes the bridge's pedestrian walkway but Garber catches up to him. As Garber holds Ryder at gunpoint, Ryder says that he is not going back to prison and gives him a 10 second ultimatum to kill him, before the other NYPD officers catch up to them. As he reaches the final seconds of the countdown, Ryder pulls out his gun in a provocative gesture which forces Garber to shoot. With his dying breath, Ryder calls Garber his hero as NYPD officers arrive on scene. Afterward, the mayor thanks Garber for saving the hostages, and hints the city will support him in the bribery investigation. Garber is later seen coming home with groceries, including a half-gallon of milk he promised his wife he'd bring home during an earlier phone call.
- Denzel Washington as Walter Garber, the New York City Subway dispatcher, who is negotiating with the hijackers. The negotiator in the 1974 film was a transit policeman called Lt. Zachary Garber (portrayed by Walter Matthau); Edward James Olmos played Detective Anthony Piscotti, the negotiator in the 1998 television movie.
- John Travolta as Ryder / Dennis Ford / Mr. Blue, the leader of the hijackers. Instead of playing a mercenary, he plays a former Wall Street "high roller" named Dennis Ford, who blames the city of New York and the mayor for causing him to stay in prison for 10 years, longer than the guilty plea of three years. Scott courted Travolta heavily for the actor's first action role in years, Travolta earned $20 million for his role. The role was originally portrayed by Robert Shaw in the 1974 film. Vincent D'Onofrio played Mr. Blue in the 1998 TV movie.
- James Gandolfini as the Mayor of New York City, who is under heavy pressure to address the hostage crisis. The character was originally portrayed by Lee Wallace in the 1974 film
- Victor Gojcaj as Bashkin / Mr. Grey, the most aggressive of the hijackers. The character, originally named "Joe Welcome", was portrayed by Hector Elizondo in the 1974 film. Donnie Wahlberg played him in the 1998 TV movie.
- John Turturro as Camonetti, the lieutenant of the Emergency Service Unit of the NYPD of hostage negotiations.
- Luis Guzmán as Phil Ramos / Mr. Green, one of the hijackers. The role, originally named "Harold Longman", had been portrayed by Martin Balsam in the 1974 film. Richard Schiff played him in the 1998 film.
- Ramón Rodríguez as Delgado, an MTA train dispatcher.
- Robert Vataj as Emri / Mr. Brown, the stammering young gun, who helps hijack the train under the command of Ryder. The character originally named "Steever" was portrayed by Earl Hindman in the 1974 film.
- Gbenga Akinnagbe as Wallace, one of the hostages on the train.
- Alex Kaluzhsky as George/Geo, one of the hostages on the train.
- Michael Rispoli as John Johnson, Garber's boss and head of the MTA NYC Transit's Rail Control Center.
- John Benjamin Hickey as Deputy Mayor LaSalle
- Jason Butler Harner as Mr. Thomas
- Frank Wood as Police Commissioner Sterman
- Aunjanue Ellis as Garber's Wife
- Brian Haley as Police Captain Hill
The first drafts of the script faced the challenge of updating the novel with contemporary technology, including cell phones, GPS, laptops, thermal imaging, and a post-9/11 world in New York City. In December 2007, David Koepp, who adapted the novel for Scott and Washington said:
- I wrote many drafts to try and put it in the present day and keep all the great execution that was there from the first one. It’s thirty years later so you have to take certain things into account. Hopefully we came up with a clever way to move it to the present.
Koepp's drafts were meant to be "essentially familiar" to those who read the novel, preserving the "great hero vs. villain thing" of the original. Brian Helgeland, the only one receiving credit for the screenplay, took the script a different direction, making the remake more like the 1974 film than the novel and, as Helgeland put it, making it about "two guys who weren't necessarily all that different from each other." As writer Michael Ordoña describes it:
- Whereas the novel is told from more than 30 perspectives — keeping readers off balance because it is unknown which characters the writer might suddenly discard — the two films focus on the lead hijacker and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee with whom he communicates by phone. The new version sharpens that focus until it's almost exclusively a duel between disgraced MTA dispatcher Walter Garber and manic gunman Ryder.
In the book and original film, Ryder is "cold-blooded and calculating", but in the 2009 film he is a "loose cannon willing to kill innocents not out of necessity but out of spite." Also Ryder in the original film and book is portrayed as a normal looking businessman while in the 2009 film he looks like he has adopted prison life, wearing very visible prison-related tattoos and the very laid back modern style of a biker.
In the 1974 film, the main character (played by Walter Matthau) is named Zachary Garber and is a lieutenant in the Transit Authority police; in the 2009 film, the main character (played by Denzel Washington) is named Walter Garber and works as a subway train dispatcher.
Ryder also demands 10 million US Dollars instead of 1 million as in the original film and book or 5 million in the made-for TV film. Ryder does not use the "Mr. Blue" nickname as the original film does; it is instead implied that Ryder is a nickname. In the 1974 film, the train-operating hostage taker is the only member of the group to live long enough to see himself behind bars, while all of the hostage takers die in the 2009 film.
Production began in March 2008 with all cast and crew being required to attend a track safety course taught by MTA personnel, as much of the filming would take place in the subway on active tracks. For the initial hijack sequence at Grand Central on the IRT Flushing Line, the crew used the Times Square-bound track during late night hours while regular 7 train service operated in both directions on the Flushing-bound track. An actual R142A train (the current model used on the IRT Pelham Line) was used for the Grand Central sequence (in order to reach that track, the train needed to navigate through four boroughs). Many locations in Brooklyn were used during filming. A large portion was filmed on the unused local track between the Hoyt Schermerhorn station and the New York Transit Museum on the IND Fulton Street Line. A retrofitted R62A car was used during filming to give the appearance of an R142A car, for exterior filming only. Interior car scenes were filmed at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, NY, on a set that more closely resembles the newer and larger R160B used on the BMT Astoria Line, which runs in the Astoria neighborhood, where Kaufman is based. Outdoor street filming locations were the lower level of the Manhattan Bridge, Tudor City, including the First Ave tunnel near the UN, Manhattan's Upper East Side, the Times Square area, the Whitlock Avenue elevated station, located in the West Farms Section of the Bronx, and Turtle Bay. Some scenes were also shot in lower Manhattan. The scene with the police leaving the Brooklyn Federal Reserve, which doesn't exist, was actually the rear of the USPS Office of the Inspector General, located next to the World Trade Center, in front of the PATH station entrance.
Release and marketing 
The film was originally scheduled to release on July 31, 2009, but the release was moved earlier to June 12. The first theatrical poster was released on February 10, 2009, while the first trailer for the film debuted at the screenings of The International on February 13, 2009.
John Travolta decided against promoting the film, since it was released just five months after the death of his 16-year–old son, Jett. He stated that he still was not ready to step back into the spotlight. Travolta released a statement saying, "Tony, Denzel, Luis, John, James and Sony Pictures stepped up without hesitation to help promote this wonderful film, and their unselfish efforts have allowed my family the additional time to reconcile our loss." "I am very proud of the efforts we have all made in making this movie, and I want each and every one of you to enjoy it," he adds. "So, set your calendars for the weekend of June 12th. I promise you won't be disappointed. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart."
Critical reception 
Reviews of the film were overall mixed, with a 51% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 206 reviews. Metacritic gave the film a metascore of 55% based on 33 reviews, which indicates "mixed or average reviews".
Jim Ridley of the Village Voice noted that the new Pelham film was worse than the original: "Scott's redo comes up short in almost every regard against the '74 model ... If it's somehow unfair to compare the two, why was The Taking of Pelham 123 even remade?" "As expected, Tony Scott’s hyperkinetic, entirely unnecessary revamp attempts to update Pelham by cranking the volume and inflating the Noo Yawk attitude to a cartoonish level of macho posturing," wrote Sean Burns in Philadelphia Weekly. Writing in New York Press, Armond White was critical of Tony Scott's direction: "Tony Scott’s craft cannot create suspense, it substitutes noise, cursing and brutality." Michael Rechtshaffen of Hollywood Reporter noted: "Even with the plot's built-in ticking clock, the film relinquishes the tautly calibrated pace in the third act, never to get completely back on track." David Edelstein's review for New York Magazine carried the headline "The Taking of Pelham 123 is not worth running down a flight of subway-station stairs for."
Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars, and began his review with "There’s not much wrong with Tony Scott’s “The Taking of Pelham 123,” except that there’s not much really right about it." Ebert commented that the lead actors lacked passion in their performances: "Oh, John Travolta is angry and Denzel Washington is determined, but you don’t sense passion in the performances. They’re about behaving, not evoking." He also compared it unfavorably with the 1974 original, calling it "less juicy" and opining that the special effects are "not an improvement"."The only performance notable is by newcomer Victor Gojcaj, silent but deadly." Christy Lemire of the Associated Press gave the film two out of four stars, and called it "another overcaffeinated thriller".
Writing for the Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore gave the film three out of five stars, and commented "Pelham, for its crowd-pleasing heart-racing virtues ... plays out like a Tony-Denzel pairing that Denzel, at least, should have taken a pass on." In a review for MSNBC, Alonso Duralde was critical of John Travolta's performance in the film, comparing it to his roles in Swordfish and Battlefield Earth: "Travolta remains singularly unbelievable as a villain. In movies like this and 'Swordfish' and, let's not forget, 'Battlefield Earth,' the actor strives for malice but generally can’t get much darker than playground-bully meanness." Peter Travers, writing for Rolling Stone, gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, stating "This movie hits you like 600 volts from a sparking third rail. Damn straight it's electrifying [...] The only letdown comes in Scott's handling of the passengers, who remain frustratingly generic." Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, writing in his blog, commented that he loved the film, and thought it was one of three of Scott's great movies of the 2000s, saying: "...the coherence in his films is not between the pages of a script; it's between shots, and his greatest asset (both to himself and to cinema as a whole) is his ability to construct scenes out of shots that take place across great distances of space or time, as in his two best movies: Déjà Vu (much of whose running time consists of characters watching a past event through a sort of time machine) and his remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 (where the two main characters develop a complex relationship despite not meeting until the end of the movie)."
Box office 
The film debuted in the number three spot with approximately US$25 million at the box office in the United States in its opening weekend, in what The New York Times called "an unusually quiet weekend at the box office because of soft ticket sales for The Taking of Pelham 123". The film was beaten out by The Hangover and Up for the number one and number two spots. The Taking of Pelham 123 had a production budget of $100 million, and was co–financed with Relativity Media and Sony Pictures. Ben Fritz of the Los Angeles Times commented on the box office results of the film's opening weekend ($23,373,102): "Although far from disastrous, that's a soft start for a film budgeted at more than $100 million." As of September 2011, the film has managed to earn $150,166,126 world wide.
Home video 
DVD and Blu-ray versions of the movie with bonus features were released on November 3, 2009. The film opened up at #3 at the DVD sales chart, making $14.1m off 919,000 DVD units in the first week of release. These features included commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes. In South Korea, DVD, and Blu-ray were released on October 23, 2009.
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- Official website
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- The Taking of Pelham 123 at AllRovi
- The Taking of Pelham 123 at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Taking of Pelham 123 at Metacritic
- The Taking of Pelham 123 at Box Office Mojo