A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this action-packed remake of the gritty, same-named 1970s thriller is intense and violent and not meant for young kids. The fast-paced story is accompanied by heaping doses of realistic, bloody (expect lots of gunplay ... and resulting gore spatters) and profanity (including lots of "s--t"s and "f--k"s). But on the up side, there's not much in the way of sex, product placement, or substance use/abuse.
What's the story?
Subway dispatcher Walter Garber's (Denzel Washington) day starts mundanely enough, with complaints about non-working switches and workplace pranks. But events take a turn at 2:13 p.m., when he fields a call from Ryder (John Travolta), an ex-con who's hijacked a train and is demanding $10 million for the release of its passengers -- and he threatens to shoot one of them for every minute the loot fails to show. Still reeling from being demoted to the dispatch desk after being accused of taking bribes, Garber senses a chance to redeem his name. But the stakes are high and the odds ugly.
Is it any good?
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 is successful, fancy filmmaking: It's efficient, gripping, and hits the right marks. But in this update of the 1974 classic, New York is no longer gritty. Busy, yes; rat-infested, yes. Tawdry like New York in the 1970s? No. That's not to say that a train hijacking could only happen in old New York. But a crime that takes place in the warren-like bowels of the city seems discordant when set against the slick, finance-driven backdrop depicted here, somewhat diminishing the intensity of this still-gripping thriller.
On the acting side, though there's little shading in his character as it's written, Washington tries hard, managing to add depth to the role. And Travolta turns in a believable performance, but it takes some time for him to establish his villainy. Menacing with his perma-scowl and tattoos, his voice is nevertheless too decent (even while uttering expletives). The rest of the supporting cast -- which includes James Gandolfini as a lame-duck mayor and John Turturro as a hostage negotiator -- is strong, elevating the film's artistry. The breakneck camerawork heightens the drama, but a few more lingering shots would have been nice. Without them, the characters feel like pawns in a glitzy game -- one that's entertaining but not a classic.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's violence. Does it have more or less impact than the fights and explosions in more fantasy-based movies? How does this movie compare to other thrillers? Is it believable? Does that matter? Parents and teens who've seen the original can also discuss how this one stacks up. Why do so many movies get remade in Hollywood?
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