Oscar-winner Denzel Washington squares off against John Travolta in a
tense hostage thriller directed by Tony Scott and adapted from the same
novel that was the basis of a hit movie 35 years ago. Here's a look at
The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.
Walter Garber is a traffic manager in the control center for the vast New York City Subway underground rail system. On an ordinary day he may have to deal with trains that break down, derailments, stuck signals and the like.
But when one of his trains stops in mid-tunnel for no apparent reason he quickly finds out this is no ordinary day.
A train hijacked at gunpoint with hostages' lives at stake puts Garber in the 'hot seat' because the mastermind of the plot - who calls himself 'Ryder' - will only talk to the dispatcher as he details his demands punctuated with threats of deadly violence.
Director Tony Scott says his challenge was to keep the audience in suspense and keep the movie moving forward as the two adversaries spend much of the time talking back and forth on the radio.
"For me it's a tough movie to do," Scott says. "Two-thirds of the movie is two guys on the phone so I saw that as being a challenge to keep the anxiety and momentum going because, as I say, two-thirds of the movie it's two guys on the phone with each other."
As he did in hit movies like Top Gun and Crimson Tide, Scott relies on reality rather than digital effects, in this case putting his actors in real New York subway cars and along the tracks in the real tunnels.
"The city was the third character in the movie and became a very important factor," says Scott. "That's why I opened the movie with freneticism and anxiety which I stole from "Koyaanisqatsi," which was a big, old 'stoner' movie from the '70's - the same time they brought out [the original]"…Pelham." I wanted to make the city a very strong character and I think I handled and shot it in a way that it hasn't been before. It's always about noise and people and anxiety, so it was a great contrast. For me this movie was a brilliant canvas in terms of the bowels of the city of New York down in the subway system to the calmness and the quiet of the almost NASA-like MTA control center. So I had a great canvas on which to work. "
"I just liked the fact that he was an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation," adds Denzel Washington.
…Pelham 1-2-3 is co-star Washington's fourth film with director Scott; and for this one Washington says his big challenge was not to be a police officer or a leader, but to be just an ordinary civil servant.
"The challenge is that there was nothing special about the guy," Washington says. "He's a regular, hard-working 'Joe' and I embraced that. So he doesn't know anything about guns. We don't suddenly find out that he was in 'Delta Force' as a kid. He's just an overweight, coffee-spilling klutz who saves the day."
The original film starred Walter Matthau as Garber and Robert Shaw was the subway hijacker, the character John Travolta plays in the new film. However Washington says it is not based on that 1974 thriller.
"I don't think it's a remake," Washington says. "I think it's basically a story of a hostage situation on a train in New York City. I think that's what the two films have in common and I don't know that my character and the character that Walter Matthau played are that similar."
The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 also features John Turturro as the New York police department's skilled hostage negotiator. James Gandolfini plays the city's scandal-plagued mayor and Luiz Guzman is one of Travolta's key henchmen in the hijacking. The screenplay, adapted from the novel by John Godey, is by Brian Helgeland.