The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009 Film)
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The Taking of Pelham 123 2009 Film

The Taking of Pelham 123
The face of Denzel Washington on the top left stacked above John Travolta on the lower right with the film title in the center.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTony Scott
Produced by
Screenplay byBrian Helgeland
Based onThe Taking of Pelham One Two Three
by John Godey
Music byHarry Gregson-Williams
CinematographyTobias A. Schliessler
Edited byChris Lebenzon
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • June 12, 2009 (2009-06-12)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$100 million[1]
Box office$150 million[2]

The Taking of Pelham 123 is a 2009 American action thriller film[2] directed by Tony Scott. It is a film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Morton Freedgood (writing under the pseudonym John Godey), and is a remake of the original 1974 film adaptation of the same name, which was also remade in 1998 as a TV film. The film is about a train dispatcher (Denzel Washington), who is pressed into the role of negotiator after a criminal (John Travolta) hijacks a subway car of passengers. Production began in March 2008, and it was released on June 12, 2009.[3]


A man calling himself Ryder and his accomplices - Bashkin, Emri, and former train operator Phil Ramos - hijack Pelham 123, a New York City Subway 6 train, at 77th Street. Uncoupling the front car of the train below 51st Street, they take the passengers hostage. Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee Walter Garber, working the Rail Control Center as a train dispatcher, receives a call from Ryder, demanding $10 million in cash to be paid within 60 minutes. Ryder warns that every minute he waits past the deadline, he will kill a hostage.

Bashkin kills a suspicious New York City Transit Police officer, and all the passengers not in the front car, except the motorman, are released. Garber reluctantly negotiates with Ryder as Ramos and Emri set up Internet access in the tunnel. On his laptop, Ryder watches the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunge nearly 1,000 points in response to the hijacking. A hostage's laptop also connects to the Internet, and its webcam allows the control center to observe Ryder and Ramos. Lieutenant Camonetti of the New York City Police Department Emergency Service Unit takes over negotiations, which infuriates Ryder, who kills the train's motorman to force Camonetti to bring Garber back.

Camonetti learns that Garber is being investigated for allegedly accepting a $35,000 bribe over a contract for new Japanese subway cars. Ryder also discovers the allegations online and forces Garber to confess by threatening to kill a passenger. To save the hostage, Garber claims that he was offered the bribe while deciding between two companies, using the money to pay for his child's college tuition, and insists he would have made the same decision regardless. The mayor agrees to Ryder's ransom, ordering the police to deliver it. En route, the police car is involved in an accident and fails to deliver the money in time. Garber attempts to bluff Ryder that the ransom has arrived, unaware he has been monitoring events on his laptop. Ryder threatens to execute a child's mother, but another hostage, a former soldier, sacrifices himself and is killed. A brief gunfight erupts after an Emergency Services Unit sniper is bitten by a rat and discharges his weapon, killing Ramos.

Based on clues from Garber's conversations, the police discover that Ryder is Dennis Ford, a manager at a private equity firm who was sentenced to prison for investment fraud. Ford had agreed to a plea bargain to serve three years, but received ten years instead. One of the mayor's aides mentions the extreme drop in the major stock indexes, and the mayor deduces that Ryder is attempting to manipulate the market via put options. Ryder demands that Garber deliver the ransom himself, and Garber is given a pistol and flown to the terminal. Ryder brings Garber aboard and orders him to operate the train down the tunnel below 33rd Street, where Garber and the hijackers exit, rigging the train to go on without them. Garber manages to separate himself at a railway crossing and follows Ryder to the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Ryder parts from Bashkin and Emri, who are shot dead after being surrounded by police and provoking deadly force in an apparent suicide-by-cop.

The train comes to a halt safely just before Coney Island, and the police discover Ryder is no longer on board. Ryder hails a taxi, followed by Garber, and finds that his scheme has amassed $307 million. He reaches the Manhattan Bridge's pedestrian walkway, where Garber holds him at gunpoint. Ryder gives him a 10-second ultimatum to pull the trigger, and in the final seconds, pulls out his own gun and forces Garber to shoot him. Telling Garber, "You're my goddamn hero", Ryder collapses and dies (as Garber solemnly looks on while Camonetti observes approvingly from a chopper). The mayor thanks Garber and assures him the city will "go to bat" for him over his bribery admission. The film concludes as Garber returns home to his wife with groceries he had promised to pick up.


  • Denzel Washington as Walter Garber, an MTA subway dispatcher, who is negotiating with the hijackers. The negotiator in the 1974 film was a transit policeman named Lt. Zachary Garber (portrayed by Walter Matthau); Edward James Olmos played Detective Anthony Piscotti, the negotiator in the 1998 television movie.[4][5]
  • John Travolta as Dennis "Ryder" Ford, the leader of the hijackers. Instead of playing a mercenary, he plays a former Wall Street "high roller" who blames New York City and the mayor for causing him to stay in prison for 10 years, longer than his plea deal of three years. Scott courted Travolta heavily for the actor's first acting role in years. Travolta earned $20 million for his work in the film.[6][dead link] The role was originally portrayed by Robert Shaw in the 1974 film. Vincent D'Onofrio played Ryder in the 1998 TV movie. In the first two movies, Ryder used the alias "Mr. Blue".
  • John Turturro as Vincent Camonetti, a lieutenant and hostage negotiator with the NYPD's Emergency Service Unit.
  • James Gandolfini as the Mayor of New York.
  • Luis Guzmán as Phil Ramos, former MTA motorman, one of the hijackers. The role, originally named "Harold Longman", alias "Mr. Green", was portrayed by Martin Balsam in the 1974 film. Richard Schiff played him in the 1998 film.
  • Michael Rispoli as John Johnson, Garber's boss and head of the MTA's Rail Control Center
  • Frank Wood as Police Commissioner Sterman
  • John Benjamin Hickey as Deputy Mayor LaSalle
  • Gary Basaraba Jerry Pollard, original motorman of the hijacked train
  • Ramón Rodríguez as Delgado, an MTA train dispatcher
  • Jake Siciliano as an eight-year-old boy, hostage with his Mom
  • Aunjanue Ellis as Theresa, Garber's Wife
  • Tonye Patano as Regina, MTA conductor on the hijacked train
  • Jason Butler Harner as Mr. Thomas, a hostage who has to pee
  • Victor Gojcaj as Bashkim, the most aggressive of the hijackers. The character, originally named "Joe Welcome", alias "Mr. Grey", was portrayed by Hector Elizondo in the 1974 film. Donnie Wahlberg played him in the 1998 TV movie.


The first drafts of the script faced the challenge of updating the novel with contemporary technology, including cell phones, global positioning systems, laptops, thermal imaging, and a post-9/11 world in New York City. In December 2007, David Koepp, who adapted the novel for Scott and Washington said:[7]

I wrote many drafts to try and put it in the present day and keep all the great execution that was there from the first one. It's thirty years later so you have to take certain things into account. Hopefully we came up with a clever way to move it to the present.

Koepp's drafts were meant to be "essentially familiar" to those who read the novel, preserving the "great hero vs. villain thing" of the original.[7] Brian Helgeland, the only one who received credit for the screenplay, took the script a different direction, making the remake more like the 1974 film than the novel and, as Helgeland put it, making it about "two guys who weren't necessarily all that different from each other."[4] As writer Michael Ordoña describes it:[4]

Whereas the novel is told from more than 30 perspectives -- keeping readers off balance because it is unknown which characters the writer might suddenly discard -- the two films focus on the lead hijacker and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee with whom he communicates by phone. The new version sharpens that focus until it's almost exclusively a duel between disgraced MTA dispatcher Walter Garber and manic gunman Ryder.

In the book and original film, Ryder is "cold-blooded and calculating", but in the 2009 film, he is a "loose cannon willing to kill innocents not out of necessity but out of spite."[4] Also, Ryder in the original film and book is portrayed as a normal-looking businessman, while in the 2009 film, he looks as if he has adopted prison life, sporting very visible prison tattoos, and the laid-back style of a biker.

In the 1974 film, the main character (played by Walter Matthau) is named Zachary Garber and is a lieutenant in the transit police; in the 2009 film, the main character (played by Denzel Washington) is named Walter Garber and works as a subway train dispatcher.

Ryder also demands $10 million instead of $1 million as in the original film and book or $5 million in the made-for-TV film. Ryder does not use the "Mr. Blue" nickname as in the original film. Instead, Ryder is a nickname adopted by Dennis Ford.

In the 1974 film, the train-operating hostage-taker is the only member of the group to live long enough to see himself behind bars, while all of the hostage-takers die in the 2009 film.


Production began in March 2008 with all cast and crew being required to attend a track safety course taught by MTA personnel, as much of the filming would take place in the subway on active tracks.[8][9] For the initial hijack sequence at Grand Central on the Flushing Line, the crew used the westbound track during late night hours while regular 7 train service operated in both directions on the eastbound track. An R142A train (the model previously used on the 6 train at the time) was used for the Grand Central sequence. Many locations in Brooklyn were used during filming. A large portion was filmed on the unused local track between the Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets station and the New York Transit Museum on the Fulton Street Line.[10][11]

For exterior filming only, R62A car #2079 was used during filming to give the appearance of an R142A car.[12] Interior car scenes were filmed at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens on a set that more closely resembles the newer and larger R160B (which were still being delivered at the time of filming) used on the Astoria Line, which runs in the Astoria neighborhood where Kaufman is based.[13] Outdoor street filming locations were the lower level of the Manhattan Bridge; Tudor City, including the First Avenue tunnel near the Headquarters of the United Nations; the Upper East Side; Times Square and the Theater District area; the Whitlock Avenue station in the Bronx; and Turtle Bay.[] Some scenes were also shot in Lower Manhattan.

The scene with the police leaving the Brooklyn Federal Reserve, which does not exist, was actually the rear of the United States Postal Service Office of the Inspector General, located next to the World Trade Center, in front of the PATH station entrance.

Release and marketing

The film was originally scheduled to release on July 31, 2009, but the release was moved earlier to June 12. The first theatrical poster was released on February 10, 2009, while the first trailer for the film debuted at the screenings of The International on February 13, 2009.

John Travolta decided against promoting the film, as it was released just five months after the death of his 16-year-old son, Jett. He stated that he still was not ready to step back into the spotlight. Travolta released the following statement:

Tony, Denzel, Luis, John, James and Sony Pictures stepped up without hesitation to help promote this wonderful film, and their unselfish efforts have allowed my family the additional time to reconcile our loss. I am very proud of the efforts we have all made in making this movie, and I want each and every one of you to enjoy it. So, set your calendars for the weekend of June 12th. I promise you won't be disappointed. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.[14]


Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 51% based on reviews from 230 critics, with an average rating of 5.45/10. The site's critical consensus says: "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."[15] On Metacritic the film has a score of 55% based on 33 reviews, which indicates "mixed or average reviews".[16]

Jim Ridley of the Village Voice noted that the new Pelham film was not as good as the original: "Scott's redo comes up short in almost every regard against the '74 model ... If it's somehow unfair to compare the two, why was The Taking of Pelham 123 even remade?"[17] "As expected, Tony Scott's hyperkinetic, entirely unnecessary revamp attempts to update Pelham by cranking the volume and inflating the Noo Yawk attitude to a cartoonish level of macho posturing," wrote Sean Burns in Philadelphia Weekly.[18] Writing in New York Press, Armond White was critical of Tony Scott's direction: "Tony Scott's craft cannot create suspense, it substitutes noise, cursing and brutality."[19] Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter noted: "Even with the plot's built-in ticking clock, the film relinquishes the tautly calibrated pace in the third act, never to get completely back on track."[20]David Edelstein's review for New York Magazine carried the headline "The Taking of Pelham 123 is not worth running down a flight of subway-station stairs for."[21]

There's not much wrong with Tony Scott's "The Taking of Pelham 123," except that there's not much really right about it.

 --Roger Ebert[22]

Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars, and began his review with "There's not much wrong with Tony Scott's "The Taking of Pelham 123," except that there's not much really right about it."[22] Ebert commented that the lead actors lacked passion in their performances: "Oh, John Travolta is angry and Denzel Washington is determined, but you don't sense passion in the performances. They're about behaving, not evoking."[22] He also compared it unfavorably with the 1974 original, calling it "less juicy" and opining that the special effects are "not an improvement", "The only performance notable is by newcomer Victor Gojcaj, silent but deadly."[22]Christy Lemire of the Associated Press gave the film two out of four stars, and called it "another overcaffeinated thriller".[23][24]

Writing for the Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore gave the film three out of five stars, and commented "Pelham, for its crowd-pleasing heart-racing virtues ... plays out like a Tony-Denzel pairing that Denzel, at least, should have taken a pass on."[25] In a review for MSNBC, Alonso Duralde was critical of John Travolta's performance in the film, comparing it to his roles in Swordfish and Battlefield Earth: "Travolta remains singularly unbelievable as a villain. In movies like this and 'Swordfish' and, let's not forget, 'Battlefield Earth,' the actor strives for malice but generally can't get much darker than playground-bully meanness."[26] Peter Travers, writing for Rolling Stone, gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, stating, "This movie hits you like 600 volts from a sparking third rail. Damn straight it's electrifying [...] The only letdown comes in Scott's handling of the passengers, who remain frustratingly generic."[27] Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, writing in his blog, commented that he loved the film, and thought it was one of three of Scott's great movies of the 2000s, saying: "...the coherence in his films is not between the pages of a script; it's between shots, and his greatest asset (both to himself and to cinema as a whole) is his ability to construct scenes out of shots that take place across great distances of space or time, as in his two best movies: Déjà Vu (much of whose running time consists of characters watching a past event through a sort of time machine) and his remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 (where the two main characters develop a complex relationship, despite not meeting until the end of the movie)."[28]

Box office

The film debuted in the number three spot with approximately US$25 million at the box office in the United States in its opening weekend, in what The New York Times called "an unusually quiet weekend at the box office because of soft ticket sales for The Taking of Pelham 123".[29] The film was beaten out by The Hangover and Up for the number one and number two spots.[30]The Taking of Pelham 123 had a production budget of $100 million and was co-financed with Relativity Media and Sony Pictures.[30] Ben Fritz of the Los Angeles Times commented on the box office results of the film's opening weekend ($23,373,102): "Although far from disastrous, that's a soft start for a film budgeted at more than $100 million."[31] As of January 2019, the film has managed to earn $150,166,126 worldwide.[2]

Home video

DVD and Blu-ray versions of the movie with bonus features were released on November 3, 2009. The film opened up at #3 at the DVD sales chart, making $14.1m off 919,000 DVD units in the first week of release.[1] These features included commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes. In South Korea, DVD, and Blu-ray were released on October 23, 2009.[]


  1. ^ a b "The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) - Financial Information". Retrieved .
  2. ^ a b c "Taking of Pelham 123". Box Office Mojo.
  3. ^ "The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three". Coming Soon Media, L.P. Retrieved .
  4. ^ a b c d Ordoña, Michael (June 7, 2009). "'Taking of Pelham 123' stars Travolta, Denzel". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved .
  5. ^ Siegel, Tatiana; Michael Fleming (September 23, 2007). "Denzel Washington set for 'Pelham'". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Fleming, Michael; Siegel, Tatiana (2007-10-25). "Travolta boards 'Pelham' remake". Variety. Retrieved .
  7. ^ a b Adler, Shawn (December 27, 2007). "'Taking Of Pelham' Not As Easy As '123,' Says Screenwriter". MTV Movies Blog. MTV. Retrieved .
  8. ^ Simmons, Leslie; Nordyke, Kimberly (January 15, 2008). "Escape Artists ramp up for pics, Sony deal". The Hollywood Reporter. Nielsen Company. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved .
  9. ^ Kennedy, Randy (May 1, 2009). "'Manhattan Transfer: Remaking 'Pelham'". The New York Times. Retrieved .
  10. ^ "Showing Image 122286".
  11. ^ "Showing Image 122287".
  12. ^ "Whats left of car 2079 after The Pelham movie?".
  13. ^ "Kaufman Astoria Studios". Retrieved 2020.
  14. ^ "John Travolta Thanks His "Pelham 123" Colleagues for Giving Him Time to Heal". Radar Online. June 8, 2009. Archived from the original on June 11, 2009. Retrieved 2009.
  15. ^ "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 2020.
  16. ^ "Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, The". Metacritic. CBS.
  17. ^ Ridley, Jim (June 9, 2009). "Blood on Tracks in Taking of Pelham 123: In this subway series, the original Pelham wins". Village Voice. Retrieved .
  18. ^ Burns, Sean (June 9, 2009). "The Taking of Pelham 123: This warmed-over version of the 1970s subway-hijack thriller is typical Tony Scott bombast". Philadelphia Weekly. Archived from the original on September 7, 2012.
  19. ^ White, Armond (June 10, 2009). "The Taking of Pelham 123". New York Press. Retrieved .
  20. ^ Rechtshaffen, Michael (June 5, 2009). "Film Review: The Taking of Pelham 123". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on June 9, 2009. Retrieved .
  21. ^ Edelstein, David (June 7, 2009). "Stalled Trains: The Taking of Pelham 123 is not worth running down a flight of subway-station stairs for". New York Magazine. Retrieved .
  22. ^ a b c d Ebert, Roger (June 10, 2009). "The Taking of Pelham 123". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved .
  23. ^ Lemire, Christy. "'Pelham' an overcaffeinated thriller". Associated Press.
  24. ^ Lemire, Christy. "Tony Scott's 'Pelham 123". Retrieved .[dead link]
  25. ^ Moore, Roger (June 12, 2009). "Movie Review: The Taking of Pelham 123: 3 of 5 stars". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved .
  26. ^ Duralde, Alonso (June 9, 2009). "'Pelham 123'remake goes down for the count: Extraneous car chases distract from what could have been". Retrieved .
  27. ^ Travers, Peter (2009). "Taking of Pelham 123". Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone. Retrieved .
  28. ^ Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy. "Addendum to Supercoherence, Revisited". Retrieved .
  29. ^ Barnes, Brook; Patricia Cohen (June 15, 2009). "A Sluggish Showing at the Box Office". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. C2. Retrieved .
  30. ^ a b Fritz, Ben (June 15, 2009). "'Taking of Pelham 123' and 'Imagine That' fizzle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved .
  31. ^ Fritz, Ben (June 14, 2009). "First look: 'Hangover' down only 26%, 'Pelham' so-so, 'Imagine That' DOA". Company Town. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved .

External links

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