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Denzel Washington
John Travolta
James Gandolfini.
Tony Scott.
David Koepp.
Running Time
106 minutes

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The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three
A heist-gone-wrong movie, gone wrong

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New York. A man calling himself Ryder (Travolta) leads a gang who hijack a Subway train, hold the passengers hostage and demand a huge ransom from the city. Public transportation manager Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) handles the negotiations with the crooks...

The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three
Versions of the thriller The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three account for three-fifths of novelist John Godey’s IMDb listing — the remainder being the Disney Dick Van Dyke crime comedy Never A Dull Moment and the bizarre Walter Hill-Mickey Rourke movie Johnny Handsome. The original 1974 theatrical feature, efficiently directed by Joseph Sargent, starred Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw as a transport cop and his businesslike master-criminal antagonist, talking throughout but only meeting in the tag scene. A 1998 TV remake with Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio stuck close to the film version — even reprising the business of criminals code-naming themselves ‘Mr. Blue’, ‘Mr. Green’ etc. after it had been hijacked for Reservoir Dogs. Now, Tony Scott and his regular action star Denzel Washington — having recently clicked with a remake of the little-known Scott Glenn thriller Man On Fire — take another run at Godey’s solidly constructed story... and come seriously off the rails.

Brian Helgeland’s script deletes anything from the original film that sticks in the mind (there’s no commuter-look killers, no final sneeze) and then burdens the main characters with overly complicated backstories. Washington and Travolta are both ill-served by the suggestion that they don’t have the chops to project characters onscreen the way Matthau and Shaw can without being propped up by waffle about corruption charges hanging over just-demoted transport boss Garber or the tattooed, profane gang-leader’s unlikely Wall Street background. Travolta’s villain is all over the place, tapping into the stock market figures on his laptop, snarling, “The mayor can lick my bunghole,” shooting hostages like a psycho and throwing tantrums that make him seem less dangerous than deranged. Travolta’s Ryder is such a flake you feel you’re being set up, and this blundering idiot will be revealed as a mastermind whose irrational acts are part of a brilliantly worked-out plan. But no, he’s just a nut. Washington is better, though he has to douse his natural charisma to play a put-upon, desk-sitting bureaucrat and coasts through another flat hero role. Contrivances get Garber out of the control room and into the unremarkable action, humping the ransom down tunnels, driving the train, pulling a gun, jogging through chases... Cheating Washington out of Matthau’s wonderful sign-off look, the film rewards its star with a truly bathetic grin at his pet dog instead.

Scott’s style, all staccato edits and blurry panic, pays off in a few minor scenes, though it’s a pity a sub-plot traffic accident has more impact than the main event. The support get little to do, too: Luis Guzmán as a crooked train driver represents a tradition that versions of this story feature major Hispanic talent, but can’t match what Hector Elizondo did with Shaw’s lizardy right-hand man; John Turturro strides in as a hostage negotiator as if he’s going to lift the film but gets reduced to whispering tips into the hero’s ear; and James Gandolfini blusters without consistency as the just-about-to-retire mayor.

Implausibility shouldn’t be an issue in this sort of thriller, where audiences are willing to suspend disbelief in order to be strung along by suspense alone, but this is so unengaging that you have too much time to wonder about the miracle broadband connection in the subway, the hard-to-follow financial pages business about how Ryder really hopes to profit from the heist and the way that, in a roomful of professionals, only Garber knows the Subway trivia on which the plot depends.

Pelham One was first class. Pelham Two stuck to the schedule. Pelham Three needs a bus pass.

Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three
Empire Star Rating

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) Review

Despite a strong cast, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 suffers under the excesses of Tony Scott's frantic direction, and fails to measure up to the 1974 original. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 21:06, 13 December 2011 | Report This Post

2 stars, gota b 3 stars

I must disagree Empire, i watched this last nite on dvd, really enjoyed it. Im a fan of Denzel and i think Travolta hasnt mads a good movie in years. It was tense and fun and engaging. I have not seen the original at all but Empire i think you got it wrong as usual. You give Indiana Jones and Kingdom of George Lucas Crystal Balls more like 4 stars when it was so insulting a movie and shows Lucas has no idea how to write a movie, then you give Transformers 3 stars and then slagg it off and give ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by velvet at 13:01, 09 August 2010 | Report This Post

This film will not engage you

Yes, this film is passably entertaining. I will give it that. But Denzel Washington's performance is sadly the only thing it has going for it. The writing is uninvolving and totally devoid of any substance whatsoever, Tony Scott's directing is some of the most uninspired work he's ever done and John Travolta is one of the worst cases of overacting I've seen in a long time. This average action movie even fails to grab the viewer's attention at times. I don't recommend you watch it, and if you do... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 12:47, 09 April 2010 | Report This Post

Okay But Nothing Special.

The Taking Of Pelham 123 is a okay movie but it's nothing special or thrilling. Yes, there are some gripping moments but I felt the film itself was rushed and the ending seemed predictable. I couldn't really believe the characters, I wasn't on the edge of my seat at all. But then again, I have seen worse and a lot better movies than this. It deserves a watch if you have seen the orginal, it shouldn't be a two stared movie more like 2.5 really ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 11:19, 01 January 2010 | Report This Post

Unengaging And Bland Summer Blockbuster

Fully agree with the two-star rating. I found it unengaging, bland and boring with Travolta utterly unconvincing in his role as a cartoonish, panto-villain bad guy. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by CIRVIRUS64 at 02:24, 29 October 2009 | Report This Post

Wouldnt give it 2

Watched it and thought it was more of a 3star film to be honest, like usual Denzel Washington made a film and i thought wiithout his performance it would be pretty bad! But 3star not 2 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DJ Funktris at 17:49, 21 August 2009 | Report This Post

not half as good as original 123

It's amazing how bland a $100 million film can be nowadays. No amount of intrusive editing and loud, bouncing soundtrack can hide the fact that Tony Scott still managed to make a boring blockbuster. Going for tension instead of action, you have to wonder where all the money went if that was the case, as it's certainly not on screen. What Scott has crafted here is a film that has the shell of a decent summer action flick, but not the content to back it up. It's slickly shot, frantically edite... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 19:10, 17 August 2009 | Report This Post

Pelham One, Two but not quite a 3

In agreement with the Empire review. Not engaging enough (not enough is made of the tension/gore that one could possibly get from the hijacked carriage.) As for the runaway train scene near the end for gawds sake Speed was more competent cinematically. Denzil Washington plays the 'calm black guy' role he is pretty well typecast as, talking of which the lady commuter's request to the large black guy on the carriage 'So, whats the plan' was so borderline racially stereotypical it garnered surprise... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by filmsunlimited at 01:13, 17 August 2009 | Report This Post

RE: The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three

I really enjoyed this one and i thought both leads were fantastic.  It was great to see John Travolta is such a dramatic and tense role but he pulled it off so well. the cinematography was great and the camera views were typical Tony Scott. I really enjoyed it. ... More

Posted by katie92 at 11:41, 13 August 2009 | Report This Post


Every time someone makes a crappy remake of a film, baby Jesus cries. He cries a lot. Think of some original story lines FFS Hollywood! ... More

Posted by spamandham at 16:44, 11 August 2009 | Report This Post

I really enjoyed this film a lot. I don't know why Empire gave it only 2 stars. I enjoyed this film from beginning to end. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PureAinmhi at 16:27, 11 August 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Two stars maybe 2.5 stars.

Not a bad film, in fact quite enjoyable. But with all that talent in the mix, it just should have been better. But then again is it even possible for a remake to be a great film? ... More

Posted by molly27 at 16:24, 11 August 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Two stars maybe 2.5 stars.

L: lipton village I think its good.  Its not as good as the first one but in saying that I would not give the first one  more than 3 stars either. Worth a watch but nothing special or great. Just a middle of the road movie. Seen better and seen a hell of alot worse. ... More

Posted by lipton village at 21:44, 09 August 2009 | Report This Post

Two stars maybe 2.5 stars.

I think its good.  Its not as good as the first one but in saying that I would not give the first one  more than 3 stars either. Worth a watch but nothing special or great. Just a middle of the road movie. Seen better and seen a hell of alot worse. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lipton village at 21:31, 09 August 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Better than 2 stars...

L: FortWilliamLoyal 2 stars? Really? I thoroughly enjoyed this. Empire reviews are just getting bizarre.It's like all the reviewers are smoking crack. At worst, Pelham is a 3 star film. Strong performances all around (though Travolta is a bit OTT) and like someone said, it didn't attempt to be any smarter than it was. It's just an enjoyable, solid entertainment. It's one of those films that when it comes on telly, I'll probably find myself watching again. And the original wa... More

Posted by Haiku at 12:24, 07 August 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Better than empire views it!

Was better than I thought it would be.   I think the original is OK but slightly over rated.   Nothing special with a lot of needed car crashed and things blowing up.   2 main actors were fine. James as the mayor was brilliant.   Bear in mind this magazine gave Terimater Lactation 4 stars and Transformers 3 Stars and they are garbage I think 2 stars does not do this justice. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Death_Row_Marv at 12:56, 06 August 2009 | Report This Post


Solid if unmemorable little thriller, with a cast generally slumming it really.  It's a bog-standard by the book flick that kind of has whiffs of Ransom, Speed and myriad other 90s heisty movies, which probably themselves owed a debt to the original 1-2-3, which I do want to check out... Anyone know if any TV channels are doing a timely showing?! I agree with Empire's review, but I'm feeling generous and will give it 3/5, as it rattled by without me seat shuffling and had a few nice m... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kingoftheducks at 04:48, 06 August 2009 | Report This Post

RE: One Two Three

I really enjoyed this. Can't compare to the original as I haven't seen it but Washingon, Travolta and Gandolfini all did a good job of making this good, high octane entertainment. Tony Scott's swishy camera movements were a tad sickly but it was a good fun and didn't attempt to be any smarter than it was. ... More

Posted by Goodfella at 21:13, 05 August 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Better than empire views it!

A solid action movie with 2 good turns from the leads and Scott is less frantic than usual 7/10 ... More

Posted by filmburner30 at 20:53, 01 August 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Better than empire views it!

I enjoyed it. If you're a Tony Scott fan this is a 4 star film, probably a 3 star for everyone else. Travolta is badass (if a little unnecessarily over-sweary), and Denzel is reliable as ever as the everyman thrust into chaos. Quite subdued direction from Scott (though still occasionally frenetic). Decent popcorn fodder, nothing more. But quite enjoyable for it. ... More

Posted by UTB at 22:13, 31 July 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Better than empire views it!

this is a remake right ??   just coming back from cinema and i thought it wasnt that bad. liked Travolta, and D. Washington is as usual. He's done a night job.   7/10 ... More

Posted by m_er at 17:03, 31 July 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Better than empire views it!

Not a bad film but probably a needless one.  It doesn't try anything new but Denzel is always worth watching and I thought it was Travolta's best role in quite awhile.  The ending was crappy and uninspired but it was entertaining viewing until then, largely due to the enjoyable verbal sparring between the two leads.  A decent film overall. ... More

Posted by mackey at 21:29, 30 July 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Better than empire views it!

This was quite good mainly down to the performances from the two main leads, saying that, Travolta's constant  swearing was a bit tiring and seemed forced. Not a patch on the original film but it was fast paced and exciting.  I'd give it a solid 3 stars. ... More

Posted by simonmckergan1 at 15:30, 30 July 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Better than empire views it!

Its Tony Scott so of course i will be going regardless of the Empire reviews ... More

Posted by filmburner30 at 13:18, 30 July 2009 | Report This Post

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