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'Pelham' Redux: Trouble On The Tracks Once Again

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'Pelham' Redux: Trouble On The Tracks Once Again

Movies

'Pelham' Redux: Trouble On The Tracks Once Again

'Pelham' Redux: Trouble On The Tracks Once Again

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/105115923/105285870" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Trouble On The 6 Train: John Travolta plays a charismatic, fast-talking hijacker in this remake of a 1974 subway-hostage thriller. Stephen Vaughan/Columbia Pictures hide caption

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Stephen Vaughan/Columbia Pictures

Trouble On The 6 Train: John Travolta plays a charismatic, fast-talking hijacker in this remake of a 1974 subway-hostage thriller.

Stephen Vaughan/Columbia Pictures

The N.Y. Subway, Then And Now

The Taking of Pelham 123

  • Director: Tony Scott
  • Genre: Action and thriller
  • Running Time: 121 minutes

Rated R: Violence and pervasive language

With: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, James Gandolfini

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'Calling Pelham 123'

'Hostage Price'

'Milk'

'Mr. Garber Has Gone Home'

A Hard Day's Work: Reprising Walter Matthau's role in the original, Denzel Washington stars as a subway dispatcher who gets dragged into negotiations to save the hostages. Rico Torres/Columbia Pictures hide caption

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Rico Torres/Columbia Pictures

A Hard Day's Work: Reprising Walter Matthau's role in the original, Denzel Washington stars as a subway dispatcher who gets dragged into negotiations to save the hostages.

Rico Torres/Columbia Pictures

Tony Scott is one director who knows how to make the trains run on time.

I don't just mean the specific New York subway cars of his efficient new thriller The Taking of Pelham 123, of course. Scott — the director of Spy Game, Days of Thunder and The Last Boy Scout, among others — has always been good at running the metaphorical trains of his action-movie world.

If the title of Scott's latest adventure sounds familiar, you've got a good memory: Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw starred in the original, back in 1974.

For the remake, Scott starts this subway hostage drama with a rush, with John Travolta's evil kidnapper talking to Denzel Washington's subway dispatcher.

"Who is this?" Washington asks.

"This is the man who's gonna rock the city," Travolta cackles, before he passes the radio to a motorman — the train's driver, though he's not driving anymore — who confirms that the bad guy's claims are backed up by a machine gun-wielding heavy or three.

Because this is a hostage drama, screenwriter Brian Helgeland had to rely on the tension created by words, specifically the back-and-forth of ransom negotiations for 19 passengers and crew.

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So it's a good thing that Travolta and Washington have enough charisma to hold our attention, even though their only contact is over an intercom.

The third star of this film is the venerable New York City subway system itself, and that's as it should be. The Pelham crew filmed on the subway for four weeks, the most extensive shoot there ever, and the result is exceptionally convincing.

Pelham isn't perfect. It has its share of clunky plot elements, and it relies on an ungodly amount of coincidence.

But the film does what a good hostage negotiator does: It distracts us from what's going wrong and pulls us into the story.