Way back in 1980 I dimly remember reading the Reader’s Digest abridged version of this novel. I had a lot of time on my hands back then during the 7 months it took to get the Air Force to accept me after my discharge from the Marines. All I recall from the book was that some criminals take over an NYC subway car demanding a ransom for not killing the passengers. That’s it; that’s all I remember; virtually no details at all.
Arriving at the mall a few minutes before noon we checked out the four cinema posters next to the ticket counter. The only movie I was willing to pay money to see was this one. I asked the ticket girl to make sure the projectionist actually turned on the projector this time, since “Last Monday he must not have spotted us in our seats, and by the time he did and turned on the projector, we had missed the first 5 or 10 minutes of the movie.” She barely looked at me with a vacuous half smile, a look I know well, since it usually accompanies a thought cloud that goes like this: ‘Stupid foreigners, always complaining.’
We entered the theater ten minutes to show time and were the only ones there. Cool. But then two chicks came in. Dang it! There is nothing worse in a theater over here than when two or more women come in to see a show in the middle of the day. Daytime man-woman couples are okay; they are usually there to grope each other when they think no one is watching. The ladies however, they are bad news; for they are there not to watch a movie, but to socialize, and by socialize I mean to yack.
Sure enough, even before the flick started I could hear them. Then it got worse when the fat one started to speak into her cell phone, as if giving a play by play to someone, and that was it—I wanted to kill her, literally. I turned in my seat and stared right at her pig face. Nothing. She did what folks do here when confronted in these parts, she avoided my eyes. I sat down and whispered to my gal, “We have to move or I’m going to get kicked out for committing a capital crime.”
Back home I’ve gone to the theatre manager and successfully tattled on such offenders of theater decorum, but here it seems that speaking on cell phones or having conversations during the showing of a movie is only bothersome to grouchy foreigners like me, so complaining of such rude behavior is not likely to accomplish anything other than to reinforce local negative opinions of us.
I stood up and turned around, facing her fully for at least five seconds. She acted like I was invisible. Typical. She kept right on prattling into that accursed cell phone. We grabbed our drinks and popcorn and moved half way across the theater to get away from pig woman. I could still here her but now it was tolerable.
When I had turned around to stare at my tormentor I was a little surprised to see another half dozen theatergoers in her immediate vicinity, I hadn’t known they were there; but I wasn’t surprised that I was the only one who was bothered by her inconsiderate behavior. Back home she would have been shushed right off the phone. Alas, not so here.
So, I was in a murderous mood as the movie progressed up on the screen. John Travolta played Ryder, the heartless killer in charge of taking the train. As soon as I saw him I wanted him dead. Tony Scott, the director, had him looking hard and mean, like a man who had “done time,” or like a man who wanted to intimidate. In this case, it was both. I despise men like that, and their numbers are legion, men who endeavor to look like thugs; I want them gone as soon as I see them, and by gone I mean underground.
Sure enough, the casual taking of innocent lives was soon bloodily depicted. Director Scott had immediately accomplished one of his movie directing missions, to make the audience hate the ransomers.
Even as director Tony Scott has the audience dreaming of Travolta and his vicious henchmen’s bloody demise, Scott has them caring about Garber, the recently fallen-from-grace train dispatcher controller. The noble and likeable Garber is played believably by Denzel Washington.
I won’t go deeply into the story line, but needless to say, a lot of “stuff” happens, most of it violent and loud, and all of it involving profuse heapings of typical New York City profanity, the same kind of vile language used by the crowd of New Yorkers this past weekend at golf’s US Open. I hope you idiots are proud of yourselves. You people make me ashamed mostly because I know you aren't.
Here’s an aside: Do people in New York have the capacity to put more than three words together without using the word fuck? It seems not. In fact, there’s a scene where a teen couple conversing online declare in the heat of the moment, “I fucking love you so fucking much!” Now there’s a movie quote for the ages for you! Tony Scott, what is WRONG with you!
You know, I complain a lot about “things” over here in the Philippines, but the one thing I absolutely love about these people is that when using the English language they do so without using THAT word. God help me, but I hate it. Folks, those of you who use THAT word so gratuitously, do you realize how utterly unsophisticated and low class you sound? If sounding like a moron is what you are trying to accomplish, then hey, congratulations!
Here’s something that struck me as kind of amusing. This movie must have been made during the height of the Obama campaign. I say that because virtually all of the admirable characters in it are black men (and one black woman). There’s Denzel’s character, Garber—black of course—the once high-ranking NYC subway official, now suspected of taking a bribe, yet redeemed by movie’s end as the courageous hero of the city. Then there’s the black SWAT sniper who, while lining the vicious Ryder’s face up in his rifle’s crosshairs, mutters virtuously, “Damn, I hope I’m the one who gets to drop that SOB!” And last but certainly not least is the bravest and most righteous of them all, a black male passenger wearing an airborne ring who selflessly dies in place of his fellow passenger mom who has her little son in tow. Oh, and I shall not leave out the black conductor who valiantly leads the “unneeded” passengers out of the tunnels to safety; but this character is a woman and so doesn’t fit all “the criteria.”
Conversely, other than John Torturo’s character, the NYPD hostage negotiator, most of the rest of the non-black players are white knuckleheads. The flawed mayor, played ably by John Gandolfini, is likable but doesn’t seem all that sharp, except when he asks, “Why didn’t you use a helicopter to get the ransom money to the station?” At this, his retinue of assistants and city officials just stare, while the rest of us “watchers” on the other side of the screen realize that it’s just a Tony Scott excuse to make the NYC police force look like abject idiots as they needlessly crash a multitude of cars and motorcycles, all while getting the $10 Million in small bills to where Ryder wants it.
In a TV promotional spot with Travolta, Washington and Scott, I heard Washington declare that, just like Tony Scott, he also was interested in character development; and I have to say that they did a pretty good job doing that with the Garber character, except for his actions at the very end of the movie. I’ll get into that in a moment.
My problem is with the supposed development of the persona of Ryder, the brutal psychopath played by John Travolta. In most films we look for and usually get some glimpse of decency in the bad guy. In Pelham 123, from scene 1 we see nothing that resembles even a hint of humanity in this killer. In fact we realize within the first ten minutes that there is no one—not man, woman or child—that this brute won’t shoot for his own selfish gain.
Ryder loves the sound of his own voice. He talks and talks, thoroughly enjoying “the game” he plays with “The City.” He has a two-part mission, first, to humiliate the city that had put him in jail the first time he got caught doing bad things; and second, to make a pile of money while going about doing the first.
You see, the $10 Million is a pittance, nothing but a red herring, compared to the hundreds of millions he plans to make by investing in “put” commodity contracts; in other words, making money by investing in downside action and then making the events that causes the downside to happen. The problem is that 4 criminals holding a subway hostage is not what would cause such a thing. What would cause it is if Ryder had declared himself an international terrorist and that the taking of Pelham 123 was only the beginning of a spate of worldwide terrorism. Instead, Ryder denies being a terrorist. Come on Scott, you did want the movie to be logical didn't you? I know, I know, it’s just meaningless details; just watch the movie and enjoy the car crashes, right? Sorry Mr. Scott, not my style.
The final confrontation between Ryder and Garber on the Manhattan Bridge makes virtually no sense to me at all; especially in light of Tony Scott and Denzel Washington’s declaration of the importance of character development. In that final important scene Ryder blathers on and on about “redemption” for crying out loud, as if he put the whole bloody thing together just to give Ryder a chance to redeem himself after taking that $30,000 bribe. BS! It was ALL about the money!
Ryder’s final words as dies on the sidewalk after collapsing with Garber's bullet in his chest, “Now you’re a hero…” What! So what are we supposed to believe, that the irredeemably evil Ryder’s last wish was to make a hero out of Garber? Tell me why such a dyed-in-the-wool murdering psycho savage like Ryder would care even a little about something like that? He wouldn’t. I have to say that Scott and his writers really dropped the ball on this aspect of the film. Just because the man is depicted as a really bad fellow doesn’t mean that they can get lazy when it comes to sculpting the bad man’s words and actions on the screen. It STILL has to make sense to thoughtful movie goers out there, movie goers like me.
On the other hand, Garber's actions make perfect sense to me all the way through; that is until the very end when he refuses to shoot Ryder even as he is goaded by Ryder to do so. How could this guy, even as good as Scott wants us to see him, be displaying the classic Stockholm Syndrome symptoms where the hostage starts to empathize with his captor, after the viciousness perpetrated by this monster called Ryder? Earlier on, Garber had even heard on the radio the shooting death of his conductor buddy and by this very same Ryder. Did he forget about that in just one hour? So how could he be so unwilling to rid the world of this nasty schmuck? I suppose I’m projecting, because I would not have stopped with one bullet. At the word boo I would have emptied the clip.