Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

A few thoughts on this movie. My main impression is that it is simply excellent. Great cast (duh!), crisp writing (mostly, we'll get to that), and no flat spots. Whaaaaaa? That's right ... no flat spots. This movie is an excellent ride from beginning to end and the few slower spots in it perfectly support the plot.

It also has some excellent poignant moments that really do tug at you ...

*** spoiler alert ***

Read past here at your peril if you have not yet seen it. Travolta's character (Ryder) is very well written ... cold, hard, willing to kill. I found his dialog at the beginning a little too street smart ... he used the word "baby" to address Denzel's character (Garber) once or twice and that seemed out of place. But ... as the pressure mounts on Ryder, Travolta really brings him to life. Amazing, really.

Garber, on the other hand, is perfectly written from the get-go. Smart, yet flawed. Thinks well on his feet, and yet is willing to make huge sacrifices. The first major sacrifice is when he is forced to confess to taking a bribe in front of all his co-workers and the police in order to save a young man's life. When he finally does it, Ryder says into the microphone "you're my f*cking hero" ... and he means it.

The kinship that builds between them is, of course, entirely superficial based on their circumstances. Garber has no illusions about who he is dealing with, while Ryder really feels a connection because the city has screwed with them both.

The second Garber sacrifice is agreeing to carry the money to the train himself in exchange for the safety of the passengers, which ultimately works. But there is a supremely poignant moment when he tells his wife on the phone what he is about to do, asking her to tell their daughter to run right at the hurdles at the next day's meet and all she can say is "tell her yourself", and then "and bring home a gallon of milk" on your way. This is so smoothly delivered that it is utterly believable and anyone watching should have a lump in their throat at that moment. (If you are made of stone, please disregard that last statement.)

Getting the money to the train in the first place is a major circus because of the very short time frame ... several police cars and a half dozen motorcycles speed through traffic with one car and one motorcycle ending up crashing horrifically along the way. Eventually, the money car crashes badly too and the cycles have to grab the money and continue. That makes them late, and costs a young man his life. This completes an arc where a young women had asked him if he had a plan, he thought it was because he was black and tough, but she pointed to the airborne ring on his finger, indicating that her husband had had one too. He was later killed because he stepped in front of the gun to save her (her young son was with her) in yet another incredibly brave act in the film.

This stuff isn't sappy ... it's handled deftly, coming on you so smoothly that it is completely convincing. You just know that some people are wired to give the ultiomate sacrifice for another person, whom they deem to need their life more. This kind of greatness has got to be rare, and I really enjoyed how this movie made you think about it.

In the end, Garber gets Ryder and ends up shooting him. Ryder actually wants him to, as his plan has failed at the last moment and he does not want to end up back in jail. This is the final poignant moment, as Ryder forces Garber to shoot him by pulling his own gun and Garber does not hesitate. Ryder's dying words are again "you're my f*cking hero" ... and agin he really means it.


Note also that there are many amusing moments in this movie. One I remember vivdly == as Garber is descending to the tracks to push the 220 pounds of cash (100,000 $100 bills -- file that weight for future reference for you own heist)to the train, a police captain asks him "Who did you f*ck to get this job?" Garber answers "I f*cked myself, it's easier than it looks." This is a real chuckle after the big confession earlier ... after all, he can be excused for thinking that he has little to lose at this point.

The mayor, however, tells him right at the end that the city will go to bat for him because he went to bat for the city. And the city has a great batting average ...

Good stuff. Can't recommend it highly enough. I was on the edge of my seat the whole movie.

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