For all our vigilance, who among us critics really knows what actually goes into the making of a movie, particularly those noxious items that make up a good 99% of our North American viewing options on an average Friday night? When looking to lay the deserved blame for an abortion such as the new The Taking of Pelham 123, the names on the screen are most often not an answer but merely a clue. It’s easy to embody awfulness in the form of an especially identifiable (hideous) filmmaker, but what is a Michael Bay or a Brett Ratner—or, yea, a Tony Scott—without the fundamentally unknowable system that abets them?
This writer should admit that in this case he’s dealing from a stacked deck, as the original 1974 The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (note proper spelling) is one of those personal favorites whose dialogue is imprinted verbatim upon the frontal lobe. (Aside: how quaintly disingenuous the continuing practice of contemporary films that claim they are “based upon” the same sources that yielded their blatant cinematic inspirations. Scott’s Pelham ’09 is no more “based upon” John Godey’s forgotten novel than its maladroit “author” Brian Helgeland’s Payback was “based upon” Richard Stark’s The Hunter rather than Boorman’s Point Blank. How rare the honesty of a Michael Mann, who signs his The Last of the Mohicans as based upon not only James Fenimore Cooper but Philip Dunne’s screenplay for the 1936 Randolph Scott film version.) To avoid tiresome parallels, we will briefly catalogue all those easily comparable virtues of the original as opposed to its bastardized reincarnation—the sense of lived-in routine and casual cynicism that gives the quick, passing violence a truly disturbing sense of brute finality; the lean and snappy matter-of-factness of the radioed back-and-forth between Walter Matthau’s professionally rumpled transit cop and Robert Shaw’s impeccably composed hijacker; the vivid and expansive cast of secondary characters, et cetera—and fix solely upon the crucial structural component of both films’ suspense setup.
Click here to read the rest of Andrew Tracy’s review of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.