Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA/United Kingdom, 2009. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Relativity Media, Scott Free Productions, Escape Artists. Screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by John Godey. Cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler. Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Tony Scott, Steve Tisch. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams. Production Design by Chris Seagers. Costume Design by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus. Film Editing by Chris Lebenzon.
Tony Scott remakes Robert Aldrich’s 1974 thriller with Denzel Washington and John Travolta filling in for Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, and somehow the hack director who always over-edits and over-photographs his movies manages to not screw it up. Washington plays a desk jockey for New York’s subway traffic control who has the day of his life fall into his lap when Travolta and his gang take a train hostage. Travolta demands ten million dollars in cash in exactly one hour or he will start to shoot a hostage for every minute that the ransom demand is late. He also decides that Washington is the only man on the surface that he can talk to, and won’t allow negotiations to occur with anyone else, a point he doesn’t avoid illustrating. A man who has no hostage negotiation experience and has never been in any serious confrontation situation before is now responsible for keeping a handful of humans alive by trying to get through to a madman. It’s a wonderfully efficient 100 minutes of film, paced perfectly and featuring excellent performances, but what’s really impressive is how much Scott doesn’t get in the way. There are a few flourishes that remind you of his dumbass ways, some unnecessary trick shots in between scenes, some cheesy piano music that hits the speakers when emotions get deep (a gallon of milk, who thought of that?), but otherwise it’s a class act that makes for his best film since Crimson Tide. Travolta is particularly wonderful, as effective a baddie here as he was a delightful mom in Hairspray, while Washington gives his usually snide moral authority a little more vulnerability (not to mention a fake pot belly) and is all the more effective for it.