The Taking of Pelham 123 gradually accelerates its tension before applying the emergency brakes. New York City. The bustling heart of American bureaucracy, capitalism and greed. An urban beat sprawling the towering skyscrapers, harnessing corporations that generate the commodity of wealth. Money never sleeps. Scott’s remake of the ‘74 classic, that many critics deem “perfect”, embodies the synergetic life moulded by the city. It gives, and it takes. A duality that manifests itself between the connection of the story’s protagonist and antagonist. Two opposing ideologies, both tempted by the greed that New York veils itself in. When the villainous “Ryder” holds a subway carriage full of civilians hostage, only a dispatcher is allowed to negotiate. Placing the lives of many in his hands.
Pelham is a game of morality. A game of chess. To reveal the darkened shadows that are suppressed within. The Catholic Ryder ensnaring the seemingly innocent Garber to strategically break down his guard, to form a bond between negotiator and hostage architect. One minute at a time. Whilst Garber calms his temper before any erratic actions are performed, leaving a solemn burden on his conscience. The communicative connection between both characters is often palpable, with each sentence meticulously thought out before spoken. Garber swarmed by police officials and hostage negotiators to say one thing and then the other, conflicted in what move to play next. Scott reassuringly plays out this thriller with a heavy compunction. Each action that is taken, has a consequence.
The sole problem with this remake is that it’s so efficient in tackling the plot, that it lacks any thrills to be had. That may seem like a double entendre, but self-efficiency can be a fundamental issue for a thriller. Every character is on autopilot. They do and say everything according to plan so seamlessly, that any edge is prevented. Absolutely safe to watch as a feature, but never involves you indirectly. Scott’s frantic directing style, including the choppy frame cuts and exhausting panoramic panning, is unable to alleviate the safety measures that are inadvertently in place. Mass annoyances rather than cohesive stylistic choices. He does however generate an urban aesthetic that relishes in that New York air.
Infuriatingly the tension that is gradually built up in the second two acts, grinds to an immediate halt during the conclusive escape. Action set pieces distract rather than involve. The generic hostages seemingly have no life and, rather ironically, act as one-dimensional commodities that have limited investable power. So when these entities are whisked away on a runaway train, you unfortunately don’t care. Another irritant is the blatant disregard of the NYPD, as they are portrayed to be absolutely useless. Traversing ten million dollars across the city, and they can’t even do that without wrecking several vehicles and themselves. Just another plot convenience to add to the growing list that infests this thriller. And don’t get me started on that laptop that had no connection, then randomly did. Had no battery life...then randomly did. Careless plot details like these can really bring a cohesive story down a level or two.
For everything Pelham executes correctly, such as the two main characters (including performances) and urban aesthetic, it seemingly fails on other aspects. Much like public transport, the idea and execution are efficient if irrefutably unreliable.