First Reaction to The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three

taking_of_pelham_one_two_three

Finally saw “The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three”. I now understand why it’s a New York City classic: a lot of movies and TV shows use New York as a background, but only a few capture the spirit. That movie is so NYC it bleeds steam and neon light. That said, I also now understand the urge to remake it.

(Warning: Spoilers below the fold.  All statements only make sense if you’ve seen the movie)

Mr. Gray is set up as the character we’ve come to expect in a lot of crime movies: the undependable psycho, hired for Loki alone knows what reason, who messes the whole situation up.  Instead, his mutiny is quickly and easily put down, not affecting the plot one whit.  A nameless, faceless character, avoiding Deus Ex Machina status only because he’s a literal Chekov’s Gun, kills Mr. Brown and enables the capture of Mr. Blue.  Had it been up to the cleverness and insight of the main characters, the hijackers would have gotten away.

And speaking of Mr. Blue: after a movie of cold, mercenary efficiency, where does his death-before-capture dance with the Third Rail come from?  And if he was willing to die instead of face capture, why didn’t he try to run or fight, however hopeless either would have been?  Even his decision to stay and shoot it out instead of escape felt out of character.

By the way, when the hijackers sent the train racing toward South Ferry, did they intend to kill the hostages?  It doesn’t seem that the softhearted Mr. Green would agree to such wholesale slaughter, and Mr. Blue (for most of the movie) seems like he would consider it unprofessional.  But then, the only thing that stopped it was a red light – which the hijackers had forbidden on pain of death for another hostage.  It certainly wasn’t anything the protagonists did that stopped it.

Finally, the sense of humor is a bit…off.  You have an action-packed crime/hostage drama that leaves several bodies on the ground, and the last criminal is captured because of a running gag?  What was the purpose of the whole goofy/useless mayor scenes?  I would have guessed that they were spoofing Ed Koch – the physical resemblance is uncanny – but he wouldn’t become mayor for three more years.

Even with all of this, I’m probably going to end up buying myself a copy.  It just captures New York – particularly New York of that era – so perfectly.  I could even tell you the train they’re riding – or rather, its modern equivalent (the 6 line).  I recognize the streets they’re driving and some of the passengers on the train (not as individuals, as types – though some of the “types” seemed to rely on signifiers that we don’t recognize anymore.  I have no idea which passenger was supposed to be “the Homosexual”, for instance).  One thing makes me a little sad, though: listening to all of those rich New York accents, so many of which are extinct and so many more of which are on their way, as the City grows ever tamer and more corporate.

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