Taking of Pelham 123

Rated: R for violence and pervasive language.
Length: 106 minutes
Grade: C-FCD=D+
Budget: $100 million
Box Office: $150 million (65 U.S., 85 Intl.)

Written by: Brian Helgeland (Man on Fire, The Order, Mystic River, A Knight’s Tale, Payback, The Postman, Conspiracy Theory, L.A. Confidential, ), based on the 1974 novel by John Godey.
Directed by: Tony Scott (Déjà vu, Domino, Man on Fire, Beat the Devil, Spy Game, Enemy of the State, The Fan, Crimson Tide, Last Boy Scout, Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop 1-2, Top Gun, and one of the best unheard-of action films ever: True Romance)
Starring: John Travolta and Denzel Washington, with Luiz Guzman, John Turturo, and James Gnadolfini.

A terrorist hijacks a subway train, and the authorities must decide how best to rescue the hostages in this remake of a 1974 Walter Matthau film.

Entertainment Value: C-
Tony Scott has made some of my favorite movies, and he is a fantastic action film director. Obviously Denzel Washington is nearly flawless as an actor. John Travolta has been a little less reliable, but with supporters like Gandolfini and Turturo (we’ll ignore Luiz Guzman for the moment), this movie should have been outstanding. It was not outstanding, except in the negative sense, given this talent pool. The problems were plausibility (especially when the criminals were all vulnerable to snipers several times) and a terribly weak ending. I wanted to love this movie, but I really couldn’t. Plus, the bipolar character Travolta was playing didn’t match a criminal mastermind so much as an out-of-control abuser. All those negatives aside, it wasn’t awful, just nowhere near what you would expect from Scott and Washington, et al.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity B+-, Violence F, Language F
One scene has a girl taking off her shirt online for her boyfriend, and there’s some talk of affairs. No drugs or alcohol to mention. Several people are killed by guns in realistic fashion, and the entire movie is about holding hostages. The language is horrendous, and certainly either this or the violence alone would justify an easy R here.

Significant Content: C
Greedy people are prone to doing anything to get the money they think they deserve. Money can entice you to do things you justify as being okay even though you really know they aren’t. Power corrupts, even petty positions of power. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to atone for your mistakes. Sometimes the most liberating thing of all is to be forced into a confession.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
For yet a second time this week, I have to observe that there really isn’t much to talk about here, other than greed.

Discussion Questions:
~Does Ryder’s revealed occupation surprise you? Who do you think is responsible for Ryder’s progression toward murderer and terrorist? Who would he blame?
~What do you think of Walter’s actions in Japan? Is it bribery even if you do the thing you were going to do anyhow? Why?
~Ryder coerces Walter into a public confession during their conversations. Do you think this was actually a blessing in disguise for Walter?
~What aspects of this movie seem implausible to you?
~Why do you think Ryder made the choice at the end that he did?
~Greed is clearly a theme in this movie. Can you identify some examples of it and how it influenced people? Would you say that Walter and Ryder are only different in degree, or does something else separate them?
~How does Walter’s reputation (and being seen as possibly involved in this caper) suffer from his other errors in judgment?
~Are movies like this helpful to our society or harmful?
~Discuss Ryder’s religiosity. Is it helpful for semi-theological ideas to be presented by a terrorist in a movie?
Overall Grade: D+
This is one of those cases where there isn’t enough good in this movie to persuade me to ignore its superficial content in overall grade. Whereas Swordfish was excellent, this is (in the end) mediocre.

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