Plot summary (with possible spoilers): The film opens with four armed men boarding a New York City subway train. The men, led by Ryder (played by John Travolta), proceed to quickly take over the train, holding the passengers hostage. When Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) notices that the Pelham 1:23 train is no longer moving, he gets on the radio to the driver to find out what’s going on. Ryder picks up and demands $10 million to be delivered in one hour or passengers will start dying.
Garber is not trained to handle hostage situations, so he defers to NYPD Emergency Service Unit Lt. Camonetti (John Turturro), who gets on the radio with Ryder to begin negotiating. But Ryder insists that he will only talk to Garber, so Garber is back in play. By this time the NYC mayor (James Gandolfini) also arrives at the Rail Control Center to monitor the situation. The Mayor begins speculating about why Ryder would ask for a relatively small sum like $10 million, when he notices that the stock market is going crazy. He figures out that the $10 million is likely just a ruse, and that the real goal of the terrorists is to make a killing in the market.
As the film unfolds, viewers learn that this is indeed the case. It is revealed that Ryder sold short and invested in gold, earning somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million for his antics on the Pelham train. After the usual hostage film developments (delays with the money, screamed threats, hostages getting killed, hostages getting saved at the last minute), Ryder eventually makes off with the money. But as he’s trying to escape across the Manhattan Bridge, he comes face to face with Garber, who has no choice but to shoot him.
My Reaction: I wasn’t really planning on seeing The Taking of Pelham 123, but it was shown on a long flight I was on recently, so I figured what the heck. John Travolta is not one of my favorite actors, particularly when he tries to play a “crazy bad guy”, and sure enough, his performance annoyed. But The film as a whole wasn’t as much of a disaster as I thought it would be.
I think Denzel Washington saved this for me. He was the perfect choice to play Garber because Washington always exudes that cool, unflappable demeanor, which was exactly what Garber needed in that situation. I liked how Garber and Ryder’s relationship developed. There seemed to be a mutual respect going on there, but fortunately it never crossed the boundary into friendship. That would have been a major misstep. Thankfully, however, the Ryder character was so completely unlikable that this particular angle simply wasn’t possible — which paved the way for Garber to be able to shoot Ryder in the end.
Most of the film seemed like a retread of stuff we’ve all seen in hostage movies before. I wish the screenwriters would have played up the stock market angle a bit more, as that was the only unique/interesting part of the whole plot.
Overall, while The Taking of Pelham 123 wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, it was far from good. Act II was pretty boring, and the film seemed to drag in a lot of places. This is not something I feel compelled to watch again. I give the movie 2 stars out of 5.