The Taking of Pelham 123
I’ll just say it: I am really not that bothered about remakes. Everyone keeps throwing this big hoop-la about how remakes “destroy” the original films and how it’s “the death of Hollywood”. Advice to the people who do say those things: shut up. Yes, some remakes are a bit iffy, but then again without them we wouldn’t have all John Carpenter’s The Thing, Steven Soderburgh’s Ocean’s Eleven, Martin Scorcese’s Cape Fear and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, all of them either as good as or better than the original. Five years ago, Tony Scott remade a bad 1980s action film into one of the best films of the decade. That film was Man on Fire. Now he reteams with Denzel Washington and writer Brian Helgeland to remake one of the best and under-rated films of the 1970s, The Taking of Pelham 123.
The original Taking of Pelham 123 is an outstanding thriller with a great cast, fantastic scenes and one of the smartest endings I have ever seen. Tony Scott’s re-do is completely different. It’s loud, glossy, kinetic and almost as brilliant in my opinion.
Story-wise it’s mostly the same; a dangerous gang led by a psychotic genius of a leader (Robert Shaw in the original, John Travolta in the remake) takes siege of the Pelham 123 subway train and hold it hostage until New York City pays them 10 million dollars. Stuck in the middle of it is a cynical Transit Authority officer (Walter Matheau in the original, Denzel Washington in the remake), who is the only way for the gang’s leader to contact outside of the train.
I am probably one of the biggest Tony Scott fans on the planet. As said before, I consider Man on Fire to be one of the best films of this decade. The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Déjà vu, Enemy of The State and even Top Gun rank as some of my favourites. He has a great kinetic style of editing and style that makes his films so great and Taking of Pelham 123 is no exception. It is a blast from start to finish from its hard hitting opening to its nail-biting conclusion; Scott takes the conventional thriller pacing of the original and mixes it in with his own trademarks to create a brilliant summer blockbuster. Points added thanks to Helgeland’s sharp script that gives the film more momentum. Throughout the film, there is some great dialogue between Travolta and Washington and their verbal sparring is one of the many highlights of the film.
Cast wise, it’s a great line-up. I love Denzel Washington in almost everything he’s in. Here he trades his tough guy physique to play a more unlikely hero, beer belly included. And he was great in his role, he plays the kind of character you’re hoping that everything goes well for him in the end, even though he may not be as innocent as he looks. Playing a hostage negotiator and the NYC Mayor respectfully, John Turturro and James Gandolfini are delightfully hammy in their roles, which is a good thing as it keeps the social satire aspect of the original film. Their line as great as well as they almost point out all of the film’s flaws, as though they know of the film’s own slight stupidity. However, the highlight of the cast is Travolta. I wasn’t sure about him at first because his previous villain roles aren’t exactly good but he was fantastic as Ryder. He is a full-blown lunatic, putting “mother****r” in front of every second word as though he was Samuel L Jackson is disguise and waving his gun like a crazy redneck and he nails it perfectly.
It does reach the points where it becomes stupid, but it only adds to the film’s appeal. People would look at most of Scott’s films where we go “Yeah it’s getting dumb but I love every minute of it” and this is no different. Once again, Scott and Washington make another great film for a third time in a row. While it's not as good as the original 1974 film, Scott's update turns out to be a glossy, high-octane, great summer thrill ride.
Verdict: Full Price!!!
I really can’t say that Michael Mann has made a bad film. I really can’t. I’ve just adored every one of his films. Heat, as most people know, is in my top 5 favourite movies of all time. And let’s not forget such incredible work like The Insider, Ali, Collateral, Thief and Manhunter. Even his worst film, Miami Vice, is still a good film. So my expectations were high for Public Enemies, and even then, Mann still exceeded them. This biopic of John Dillinger is probably the best crime film of the year.
This film excels in many different areas. First, it’s cast. Johnny Depp is simply phenomenal as Dillinger, definitely in his top 5 performances. What he does is make you root for one of the most notorious criminals of all time. He surprisingly makes him a really likeable person with his brash charisma and charm. But this film is no one-actor show. Also equally as great is Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis who, as usual, is outstanding. These two work perfectly together who not only deserve award nominations but without them; I don’t think the film would have been as good as it is. But this isn’t really the new Heat. While the two leads know and understand each other, the two leads in Public Enemies just see each other as obstacles in what they are trying to achieve. There is also some fantastic supporting work from Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette, who has one great scene later on the film which should give a Best Actress nomination come awards season, Stephen Graham as Baby face Nelson, Billy Crudup as J.Edgar Hoover and Jason Clarke as Red Hamilton.
In true Mann fashion, this film has style. It has this pitch-perfect feel of 1930s Depression America. There is also a great script, great soundtrack and utterly brilliant sequences. The gun battles are just electrifying, gripped to your seat viewing and that also goes for the film’s two prison breaks. Not only that but the ending is just incredible, and probably the best thing Michael Mann has ever filmed. Overall, this isn't the 1930s Heat; this is simple cops and robbers drama. Some will find its unique filming style a bit of an annoyance but with its brilliant acting, its great pacing and brilliant sequences, this, to me, ranks as one of the best crime films in recent memory
Verdict: Better Than Sex!!!