The Taking of Pelham 123 Review

Published 6 years ago by

Short version: If you’re a fan of Travolta and Denzel you’ll probably like The Taking of Pelham 123.

taking pelham 123 reviews The Taking of Pelham 123 Review
Screen Rant reviews The Taking of Pelham 123

The Taking of Pelham 123 is a remake of the highly regarded 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, which starred old-school actors Walter Matthau, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizando and Earl Hindman. I will confess that it’s probably been at least 20 years since I’ve seen it and don’t remember much about it – but I plan on renting it very soon to watch it again.

Like in the original, the story revolves around a handful of men who hijack a New York City subway train in an attempt to extort millions of dollars from the city using hostages as leverage. Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber,  a console dispatcher at the rail control center of the NYC subway who happens to be on duty when the hijacking takes place. John Travolta plays Ryder, the extremely hard-edged leader of the train hijacking.

While the setup for the film is a pretty typical hostage taker vs. negotiator story, albeit with a “civilian” (Denzel) dealing with the bad guy (Travolta), there is plenty to keep you guessing. Ryder gives the city one hour to deliver $10 million or he will begin killing hostages, one every minute. Of course at first the good guys don’t know who they’re dealing with, but it doesn’t take long for them to determine they need to take Ryder and his crew very seriously.

Director Tony Scott gave the film a highly stylized look that was employed in overdrive during the opening credits which while cool, was thankfully used less throughout the film. They tried to inject some ambiguity into the plot in order to keep things interesting for the audience, but while Ryder’s plan was pretty evident early on, it wasn’t clear what was going to happen with Denzel’s character.

I enjoyed seeing Travolta chew up the scenery as an unadulterated bad guy, James Gandolfini was great as the mayor and it was a pleasure seeing John Turturro in an authority role not acting like a total idiot (*cough* Transformers *cough*). I also liked the New York City vibe that Scott imbued into the film. What didn’t fit was fitting a cross town car chase sequence into what was shaping up to be a fairly tense thriller – and it was even pointed out by characters in the film that they should have just used a helicopter.

There are plenty of tense moments in the movie and the interplay between the characters is very good – Tony Scott keeps you guessing as to who these characters really are and how everything will play out. You won’t be bored while watching this film.

Overall The Taking of Pelham 123 wasn’t all that bad despite what some critics are saying, and if you’re a fan of the actors listed above you’ll probably enjoy it.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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  1. I’ve been going back and forth on this one. I’m a big fan of Washington, but can’t stand Travolta and his ‘style’ of ‘acting’. I think Washington is very talented and has done some amazing films and I can’t think of one off the top of my head that I have missed. This may very well be the first. I’m still torn I was hoping this review would sway me one way or the other, but has sadly kept me firmly planted on the fence.

  2. I’m torn whether to see this or Moon. Of course, I could wait to one or the other. Thanks for the review, Vic.

  3. Washington & Tony Scott together is always a plus! Much better than the Scorcesse & DeNiro duo or even the Depp & Burton, in my estimation that is.
    I even enjoyed Tony’s overused style in Domino–which was really Mickey Rourke’s true comeback film.
    I have stated it before that I have not seen any of the films that came out recently, the big ones. Guess I will have to keep an extra $12 for this one.

  4. If you are able to: I would really like to hear your opinion after you see the original. The Shaw, Matthau, Balsam conflict made 1 2 3 an enjoyable movie for me. Do you think they improved on the original? Was the ending as good?

    I think I’ll be waiting on the DVD to answer those questions for myself. The trailer just dosen’t leave me with a good vibe so to speak.

  5. Sounds good.
    I will DEFINITELY see this one .
    Thanks Vic.

  6. @Steven

    I have the original at the top of my Netflix queue. Guys, be aware that the first 2/3 of the film are much better than the last third, where they try to turn it into an action movie and it doesn’t work nearly as well as what came before. So the ending isn’t great, no.

    Daniel F, I have a feeling you won’t like this at all. 8)


  7. Vic I have faith that you know the type of movie I like so that last little comment has made up my mind I’ll probably wait till it’s out on DVD and rent it to watch at work.

    Any thoughts as to why I wouldn’t like it though?

  8. I work in Private Security and I work the night shift. I’m all by my self and can do what ever I want. So I watch movies on a portable DVD player and surf the net on my Iphone.

  9. @Daniel F

    I think you may take issue with Travolta’s over the top performance and the way the film shifts gears in the third act – including the resolution/escape and Denzel’s character’s change.


  10. Vic,
    This movie is starting to remind me of problems I had with Ron Howards Ransom.
    that film went out of its way to end with Mel Gibson doing his best Lethal Weapon imitation.

  11. I might catch this on dvd. Only because of Gandolfini.

    I’m a little late to the Sopranos party but wow that show is amazing on dvd.
    I’ve been breezing through that show and its great. Tonight is the season 4 finale in my house. Lol,,,

  12. 790,
    Be warned .
    The Sopranos series finale is VERY FRUSTRATING and it doesnt leave you with a lot of answers.

  13. Thanks Gary but the finale was so talked about at work that I already know the last scene.

    Even knowing kinda how it ends the show is a real amazing series. The writing and acting are phenomenal.

  14. Another remake (NOT re-imagining) I won’t see. Mainly because you can’t beat Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau, period.


    Send a message to Hollywood that we’re tired of this latest money making trend and long for originality.
    You can’t tell me there aren’t new and exciting stories out there waiting to be made into movies.

  15. sorry to be off topic, but if you’re looking for a powerful TV experience, I can’t say enough about The Wire. simply WOW!

  16. Cool Piratedan, if I see the first season cheap I’ll check it out,,, :-)

  17. Never could get in to The Wire or Sopranos. I really wanted to be a fan of The Wire to because I loved The Shield so much and it was the same creative minds, but I just couldn’t enjoy it. It seemed that it had to wide of a scope and less focus on characters. Also seemed a bit to political and felt like I was being forced a message I don’t agree with. The Sopranos just seemed to be as edgy as possible for no other reason than it could. It didn’t seem like half of the stuff they did had a purpose other than to piss some people off. It had decent character development, but I never enjoyed any of the plots.

    Back on the subject of this movie. Thanks for the update Vic. Yea I’m not really a big Travolta fan so if it’s anything like most of his performances I doubt I’ll like it. Really only enoyed two or three of his films.

  18. i enjoyed it, i still like the original tho.

  19. Vic had to throw in that comment about turturos character in transformers ha. I thought he was funny in that but this movie looks like a solid scott film. His style is very cool and all his movies are top notch with production value. I think him and Michael Mann and Chris Nolan are some of my favorite directors.

  20. I don’t think he is amazing, but Tony Scott has done some really good films. Man on Fire and The Assasination of Jesse James were really good. I also love Chris Nolan Memento the Batman films and The Prestige were excellent. However Mann is not someone I would praise at all. Mann has made a lot of stinkers. Public Enemies looks good and he did a film that was pretty cool in the early to mid 90′s lol. In more recent memory we got Miami Vice, Collateral, and Ali. Ali was a major let down because it could of been great, but he really dropped the ball.

  21. First off Im a big fan of the 74 original and had many reservations about this remake but I must say its really good. It’s much more of a re-imagining than a remake as the the character motivations are different. This new version is basically a cat and mouse game between Denzel and Travolta and it is very compelling. Travolta (who I feel is over exposed) has a blast with this character and Denzel is the most likeable leading man in film in the last 15 years. He’s terrific once again. The supporting characters(especially the passengers in the train) and little details aren’t as fleshed out as the original, but it has its own strenghts. This is a solid adult oriented summer film WELL worth checking out.


  22. loved “Crime Story” the ole tv show.

    “Heat” is a film I find myself watching at least once a year. Classsic!!!

    What happened with the Miami Vice film? That was really bad.

  23. Yeah I have Crime Story on dvd. Love that retro vibe. Funny how they used to run to a pay phone to call in emergencies.

    Miami Vice was just mess, (IMO) casting had 0 to do with it. It didn’t have much of a first act. The film only became interesting when their fellow agent was taken hostage. And then after that it fell back into a confusing mess.

  24. Tony Scott was only a producer on Assassination of Jesse, but from what I hear he had a lot of input on it.

    I disagree on Mann. I think he is basically Michael Bay only better at dressing his films up to make them appear to be something special. Heat was probably his best and I think even that is grossly overrated.

  25. I have “Assassination of Jesse James” on dvd but I haven’t watched it yet.
    It looks good but I think the title should have been just, ” Jesse James”
    The rest of it kinda gives up the plot,,,

  26. Rofl It’s Jesse James the plot is givin away just by being about the guy. Unless you’ve never like went to school. The Trailer for most films gives away the plot.

    It’s a great film I highly recommend it.