Tony Scott and Denzel Washington together have three collaborations under their belt (Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Deja Vu), and given that I've enjoyed every single one of their outing, there's no reason why I shouldn't with The Taking of Pelham 123, especially with John Travolta contributing as an over the top villain sporting mean tattoos, a goatee and a foul mouth. A remake of a 1974 film by the same name, this one's pretty much updated with the fusion of the Wall Street fallout and plenty of New Yorker tributes, from the mayor (James Gandolfini) to the average salaryman Waler (Washington) earning his keep.
Those familiar with Tony Scott's films will know what you're up for stylistically, with the dizzying camera work spinning wildly in and around New York City from the bird's eye helicopter view, to the darkened subway tunnels, and the numerous nauseating inducing quick edits to bring about this semblance of concurrent urgency. Add some alternative music - Jay-Z's 99 Problems during the opening credits sounds just apt of the situation at hand - at full blast just about puts Tony's fingerprints all over this movie.
The draw of the film is manifold, and firstly, I'm a sucker for control room type of drama where operators are thrust into positions that call for exemplary leadership and thinking out of the box, cutting at the bureaucracy bullshit. It offers the big board and a glimpse of how intricate a rail network is, and seriously I'm always interested for that chance to have a sneak peek at Singapore's own MRT control room. Here the MTA is faced with a terrorist situation that looks so deceptively simple to pull off - a bunch of heavily armed men boarding the same train at separate points, before taking over at a predetermined point. With the help of insiders, logistics are all easily obtained and intimate operational knowledge exploited.
And the other draw is of course Washington and Travolta playing off each other. You can imagine just how this film is shot, where one imagines the other being at the other end of the line. For the most parts the actors do not share the same frame on screen, but you can feel the energy still as they play psychological games with each other over the phone, slowly chipping away at confidence, and gamble with many bluffs. What's particularly enjoyable is how their characters get to play one-up against the other, and through some intense conversations, reveal a lot more about their characters, through topics such as religion, the system, and demonstrating that they have probably a lot more in common, except the methods that they chose to get back at their experience of personal injustice by the state.
Surprisingly for a Tony Scott film, The Taking of Pelham 123 is quite short on set action sequences. There's the usual complimentary shoot them ups from one-sided street battles to sniper action, though one thing's for sure, the NYPD show of force is something to be reckoned with, being the last resort should the tactics of chief negotiator Camonetti (John Turturro) fail to get through. There's a relatively long sequence of a race-against-time car and motorcycle screaming through the busy streets of New York which I felt was unnecessary, if only for Tony Scott to use as an excuse to shoot something of high velocity, and to pile up on scrap vehicles.
The Taking of Pelham 123 is quite standard fare with some instances which peaked thanks to Washington's and Travolta's charismatic presence which were keenly felt. The two carry a lot of the movie on their shoulders despite being apart most of the time, but as all good hostage negotiation-crisis control room movie goes, this one's still recommended stuff.