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With Fare Hikes and Service Cuts Looming, M.T.A. Riders Take Another Hit

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

Rico Torres/Columbia Pictures

“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is similar to the cinematic version of a greatest-hits album, perfectly calibrated for the summer movie season. It features big stars and an established director doing exactly what they normally do, and doing it well.

The film pits John Travolta and Denzel Washington against one another as, stop me if you’ve heard this before, a maniacal villain and a suave hero respectively, while director Tony Scott (“Man on Fire,” “Domino”) amps up the action with assorted stylistic flourishes. That it works so well testifies to the skills of the principal figures and the continued potency of the mano-a-mano premise.

Mr. Washington plays Walter Garber, an MTA train dispatcher forced into duty beyond his pay grade when Ryder (Mr. Travolta) and his team of henchmen hijack a car full of passengers on a No. 6 train in the tunnel between Grand Central and 33rd Street. The bad guy demands $10 million from the City of New York to be paid in one hour, or the hostages start dying. To make matters worse, he refuses to communicate with anyone but Garber.

Adapted from the same novel that served as the basis for Joseph Sargent’s iconic 1974 thriller, Mr. Scott’s “Pelham” opts for a streamlined approach. Forgoing all exposition, it thrusts the audience directly into the chaos swirling around what Garber thought would be another ordinary day on the job. Unfolding in real time, with its locations largely restricted to the MTA control center and the hijacked car, the film depends on the situation’s inherent tension, as manifested in the interactions between the two men.

Fortunately, Mr. Travolta imbues Ryder with levels of gleeful derangement that make him terrifyingly unpredictable, and Mr. Washington adds a convincing touch of insecurity to his slick persona. The actors bring such dramatic heft to their archetypal parts that they keep things riveting, even as the movie progresses through very familiar territory.


Opens on June 12 in the United States and on July 24 in Britain.

Directed by Tony Scott; written by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by John Godey; director of photography, Tobias Schliessler; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Chris Seagers; produced by Todd Black, Mr. Scott, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Denzel Washington (Walter Garber), John Travolta (Ryder), John Turturro (Camonetti), Luis Guzmán (Phil Ramos), Michael Rispoli (John Johnson) and James Gandolfini (Mayor).


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