Making the Grades
As hard as New York City tries to improve its image of being a safe place to live and work, Hollywood can’t resist the opportunity to convince audiences otherwise. In this revisit to life on the “6” (the train that leaves Pelham Bay Park), a group of armed men led by a guy named Ryder (John Travolta) hijack the subway and begin negotiating for 10 million dollars. They generously allot the authorities one hour to get the cash together, or they’ll begin killing the hostages at one-minute intervals.
On the other end of the two-way radio is Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), a MTA (Metropolitan Transport Authority) dispatcher who speaks into his microphone in such a calm and reasonable manner that you wonder why he isn’t working in a smooth jazz radio station. He returns Ryder’s screaming demands with carefully controlled responses. When the hotheaded hostage negotiator from the NYPD shows up (played by John Turturro), Ryder goes ballistic and demands Garber’s return. Now it’s up to the civil servant to solve the problem of the day.
Tension begins to build just minutes into this movie, and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. The story is simple, and this remake of the 1974 Walter Matthau film follows the plot like numbered steps on a dance floor. With few surprises, the production bulldozes its way through this classic ordeal between a constantly cussing antagonist (there are over sixty sexual expletives alone) and our hero (who’s own character flaws will be slowly revealed).
Along with the nearly continual coarse language, violence is another key concern. Gratuitous depictions include gun threats and graphic on-screen shootings. Sexual content is limited to the brief sight of a woman in a bra.
Like the commuter leaving Pelham at 1:23, this film heads down a predictable track and ends up pretty much where you think it will go. (The only unexpected motive in the plot proves highly unbelievable because it likely wouldn’t work as well in reality as it does here.) Washington and Travolta are comfortable in characterizations we’ve seen them in many times before. With a lack of any redeeming messages to help justify the content, it appears you may be better off missing this train.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.
What is it about New York City that makes it the perfect environment to create movies like this? What other movies have you seen that presents this city in a totally different light?