The Taking of Pelham One Two Three Review

This review is of the edited TV-14 version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would likely be far more negative.
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It’s time for a retro train heist film. It’s definitely not a plot that you see every day, that’s for sure. Taking over a train seems futile and pointless but I suppose it’s good if your overall goal is just to cause mayhem and destruction. In this film, the villains have a plan on how they can actually pull off a heist and get away with it though. Time to see if their plan was entertaining.

The film starts off with a conductor learning how to be a conductor. He gets the hang of it pretty quick so his boss leaves. Unfortunately, that is when a group of robbers walk in and take the train at gun point. Their demands are simple. They want 1 Million U.S. dollars and a free ticket out of the tunnels. The transit police will have to think carefully about how they proceed. There are 17 hostages at play here which is the main problem. If the cops keep obeying the demands, then the crooks will get away and the hostages may be shot anyway. If they don’t obey, the hostages will be shot right away. Time to make some tough calls.

I’ll end the suspense right now, this was a great movie! There is no shortage of good characters to be found here. The writing is excellent and the pacing is sound. As with many thriller films like this, I did prefer the first half to the second. It’s just always hard for the payoff to actually beat the setup. Still, it gives it a good effort all the way through and the ending is still solid. At times this film feels like a parody, but you could also just make the case that it accurately depicts how tough New Yorkers are. They are certainly the last people to get intimidated by a guy with a gun. This bravado doesn’t always work in their favor though as one guy runs into his death as he tries to insult the gunman.

Garber is the main character here and he takes the situation in stride. Like the other New Yorkers, he basically just laughs at the villains for a while. He doesn’t take them too seriously but eventually he is forced to re-evaluate this position. He never loses his nerve throughout the film though and you can see why he is the captain here. The rest of his men don’t take the threat all that seriously either, but don’t really know when to get serious so it’s probably good that they stayed in the background. If you want a character who was really tough, look no further than the Deputy Mayor. The scenes with him and the actual mayor are certainly the best ones in the entire film.

The mayor only cares about his voters and living life to the max. He would rather keep his money than save everyone, but the deputy pressures him into making the right calls. Even then the mayor is able to stall for time by calling in various heads for different departments. While this is hopefully not too realistic for New York if such a thing were to happen now, it’s easy to picture this happening. There’s always a bunch of red tape everywhere after all. The mayor never really steps up and that’s part of what makes the plot fun. The deputy certainly has a lot of work on his hands if this scene is any indication.

To an extent this film can feel like a parody at times. It certainly has quite a lot of comedy moments throughout but they aren’t exaggerated or obnoxious. It’s the sort of outlandish humor that works because nobody reacts to it. All of the characters appear to be acting sensibly in the eyes of the others. Whether it be asking the gunmen questions with obvious answers or asking what’s going on when the scene is taking place in front of you. The characters say their lines with a straight face and really test the villains’ patience.

That’s why the second half can’t really hope to win against the first. The second half is actually played a little more seriously as the villains make their big move. We get some gun fights and the undercover cop finally gets to do something. The film hypes him up for a very long time so it was nice to finally see him do something more than just hiding. He does all right for himself and I guess there wasn’t much he could have done earlier, but honestly you could cut him out of the film and not much would change. Likewise with the villain that the others didn’t trust. They’re not bad plots though so I’ll take it.

There aren’t really any negatives to speak of with this film. It certainly doesn’t drag on as the pacing is good and the writing is solid as well. The writing isn’t amazing as the TV version did have to edit the dialogue quite a bit, but it worked well enough. It could have easily tried to make all of the characters edgy in a bad way instead of everyone just being arrogant and rebellious here. There are two remakes of this film and I doubt either one of them will be able to come close to this one. It’s a very delicate balance when you’re trying to make a comedy thriller since one element can usually overwhelm the other. I think this movie did a really fine job with it.

As for the tough question of listening to the terrorists’ demands, it’s definitely a tough call. After all, as shown in this film there is really no end. They can just keep making more and more demands until they get away since it’s not like the hostages are going well. Even after they bump off a few people nobody can do anything because of them. Of course they will eventually run out of room to make demands since they still need an escape route, but the cops really have a tough job in these films. The officers do a good job of delivering the package to the villains since they had to come in unarmed and even give their back to the villains. One cop did choke though so hopefully he resigned after the situation ended.

A nice touch for the villains is that they didn’t cram in some random sob story or anything like that. They just wanted to get rich and decided that holding up a train would be better than taking out a bank. They’re not ex soldiers trying to make a point, leaders of charities who are being robbed, or concerned citizens trying to stop a corrupt government. They’re just ordinary crooks with a big dream. Once they’re caught, they’re taken to jail. It feels like a while since the villains didn’t have any extra baggage and sometimes it works better that way. Not every villain needs to be three dimensional or super sympathetic. The final villain just jumping into his money is the perfect embodiment of what these villains were after. At the end of the day, they just wanted to be rich.

Overall, This train heist film was quite solid. It’s a pretty cool backdrop for a film and since it takes place in NYC that made the whole thing even cooler. The characters are solid and the comedy is on point. I’d definitely recommend checking it out ASAP. Whenever the mayor appears, prepare yourself for hype. I do wish he had gotten to appear one last time, but I suppose the film didn’t want to risk overdoing it with his plot and that makes sense. This film’s ending is also quite satisfying. The main characters gets to put on his detective hat and one of the little running gags from earlier led to a payoff. It’s not quite Airplane, but I would consider this to be one of the better comedies.

Overall 8/10

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