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Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) into a face-off with Ryder (John Travolta), the mastermind behind the crime.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Made with all the sinewy economy and storytelling clarity honed by making lots of high end tv commercials, Tony Scott pumps contempo energy and visual style into this classic good story. We know we are off on a hectic, zappy ride from the very first frame and are quickly engaged with the story of a hijack quite unlike any other.

The daily routine at New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority HQ and the hum drum hum of the 1.23 pm subway from Pelham are both thrown into confusion and panic when Ryder (John Travolta), with a ruthless efficient gang of four, takes control of the train. Terrified passengers are now hostages and Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is in the hot seat, negotiating with Ryder. The story unfolds with satisfying complexities - but retains full clarity, with each new piece of information adding to the tension - and the already high stakes.

John Travolta is in top form as the near-psychotic Ryder with a grudge to settle and Denzel Washington provides a complete contrast as Garber, the man caught in an impossible situation. Both actors deliver the necessary wattage in this well crafted thriller and Turturro makes a memorable appearance as the official hostage negotiator given the flick during Ryder's tactical game. Also notable is James Gandolfini as the Mayor.

The bonus in the screenplay is the baggage each character carries, making them all credible and complicated people. Scott makes sure there is time for lots of detail that adds to the sense of veracity. He has rebirthed the 1974 movie (dir Joseph Sargent, stars Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw) in a way that answers the question of why: because with today's technology and evolved cinematic language, he can retell that story for a new generation, adding contemporary references, context and relevance. It's a terrific ride.

Review by Louise Keller:
Death is an improvement on many things, says John Travolta's Ryder, the man who's 'gonna rock the city'. Life and death waver in the balance in this thrilling remake in which Denzel Washington's subway dispatcher inadvertently becomes an unknown variable in a heist and hostage negotiations. Déjà vu director Tony Scott knows how to tap into our emotions while simultaneously injecting excitement and tension. The source material is strong and highly credentialed Oscar winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland has adapted a dense and compelling screenplay that marries psychological tension, action and characters whose flaws are signalled as blatantly as the red and green signals that are the subway's compass.

Ultimately it is all about star power and screen charisma with Washington and Travolta making formidable adversaries, whether on screen together or at opposing ends of the microphone. We quickly learn there is more to Washington's Walter Garber than dealing with red signals, delays and faulty windscreen wipers. The multi-layered aspect of Garber's reality is revealed unexpectedly as the department waits for the arrival of John Turturro's practised hostage negotiator. There's more to learn about Travolta's Ryder too, and we realise his agenda may not be as simple as the $10 million ransom he demands. James Gandolfini is well cast as the cynical, soon to be ex- New York mayor who would rather be in St Tropez.

There are high speed traffic sequences and big stunts, while tangible tension escalates as the stakes become higher and higher. More and more weight falls on Garber's shoulders as his vulnerability is exposed and turned into humiliation. His role is to deflect and detract Ryder from his deadly timetable and to make him talk - a role he does expertly. There are some wonderfully incongruous ideas: a multi tasking dog ('shit always hits you), the 'ass model' taken on a trip to Iceland, the man with the ring, the guy whose laptop has an active webcam.

Coupled with slick editing and Harry Gregson-Williams' outstanding score and soundscape, it all makes for an exciting trip right until the climactic scene on the Manhattan bridge when truth and lies finally meet their match.

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Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US/UK, 2009)

CAST: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Luis Guzman, Victor Gojcaj, John Turturro, James Gandolfini, Michael Rispoli, Ramon Rodriguez, Saiuda Arrika Ekulona, John Benjamin Hickey

PRODUCER: Tony Scott, Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch

DIRECTOR: Tony Scott

SCRIPT: Brian Helgeland (novel by John Godey)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tobia Schliessler

EDITOR: Chris Lebenzon

MUSIC: Harry Gregson-Williams


RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes



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