WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS! This film started out good, but it soon became clear that the director (Tony Scott) and the source material had a bit of a falling out somewhere along the way.
The story was obviously meant to be a sort of a low-key thriller, where most of the action takes place on a psychological level, in the interaction between the hostage taker (Travolta) and a hapless train operator (Washington) who happened to be on the shift when the takeover took place. And at times, it is exactly that. The scenes where Travolta forces a confession out of Washington and offers hostages in exchange for the mayor (the Soprano guy) were great. This is where the movie shines, where it's the way it was meant to be.
However, Scott apparently thought this tension-filled psychological mind-game would be too high-brow for the average consumer. So he decided he must do everything in his power to make the sucker more EXTREME, you know, the way modern kids like it. And how in the would would a prolific Hollywood director like Tony Scott make a bunch of tension-filled conversations more exciting?
You've guessed it. This is yet another modern movie suffering from the infamous shaky camera syndrome. If you enjoy your POV flying loopdeloops around the room, shaky closeups of character faces and stop-motion intermezzos (and all that during an average dialog scene), you're in for a treat. A direction style normally reserved for action scenes was used to effectively detract the viewers' attention (and source of their tension) from the events inside the plot to the director outside it.
Scott obviously knew this, which is why he made sure the little action this movie has (and NEEDS) is as EXTREME as humanly possible. Thus, a simple matter of transporting two bags from point A to point B is turned into an idiotic and completely needles car chase, that destroys more property than there's money inside the bags. Then, there are Travolta's nameless henchmen, who are apparently there solely to die gruesome bloody (and EXTREME) deaths. And finally, there's the main bad guy himself, who isn't content to simply head-shot his helpless victims but must empty his entire clip into their jerking bodies, while droplets of blood and guts spray over the screaming hostages. EXTREME!
Really, if Tony Scott wanted to make an action movie, why he didn't just order an action script? It's not like he's some rookie who must film whatever is given to him.
Speaking of the script, forced action is hardly the only thing wrong with it. Throughout the movie, police snipers have hostage-takers in their sights and can end the crises in the moment they are ordered to shoot. But for some reason, no one gives the order, nor is anyone apparently in charge of giving it (where is the police captain coordinating the hostage negotiations and SWAT shooters)? What government would rather pay millions than try a rescue operation if there's even the slightest chance of success? And where's the FBI and SEALs taking over and icing Travolta in a minute?
On the other hand, why bother at all? Very soon, the police finds out identities and faces of everyone involved in the heist. With traffic cameras on every street corner and other assets of the 21st century law enforcement, the criminals are screwed, whether they escape the train or not. Doesn't Travolta know that? After becoming a YouTube legend, how long would it take someone to recognize his face and twitter him over to the police (LOL ITS THE SBWAY DUDE !1!!)?
Considering all this, you'd think the bad guys must have a really good reason for engaging in such a risky enterprise. And really, throughout the movie, Travolta makes it a point to portray his character as a desperate man living on the edge, staking his life in an all-or-nothing game against the might of the city that had let him down. Only later, we learn his entire scheme-within-the-scheme depended on him investing $2 million from an earlier robbery, so he could make hundred times as much on the market, when... wait, what!? He'd rather risk his life, kill a bunch of innocent people and spend the rest of his life in hiding, than retire with *just* two million!? That burning urge that drove him through his crazy scheme wasn't idealism or revenge or even the simple desire to get rich, but the desire to get even RICHER!? He must be the craziest, greediest, most idiotic millionaire on Earth. And a douche bag to boot.
These baffling inconsistencies in the plot make much more sense when we take in account this is a remake of a movie originally published in the early 70-ies. Back then, they didn't have the Internet, cameras and Nazis in charge of airports. The bad guy actually had a chance of getting away with his ingenious plan. The least script rewriters could have done was give Travolta and his men masks, or some other way of concealing their identities.
On the other hand, watching a pair of eyes talking into a radio for 90 minutes would have hardly made for an exciting film, so I guess I can see why they decided to sacrifice believability for the sake of character interaction. Now if only Scott would slow down the camera enough so we could actually see that interaction...
So, was there anything good about this movie? Surprisingly Travolta's acting. All the Scientology stuff aside, you can see why he was once considered an A-class star. Great job. Washington was very good too, you can really tell the panic taking a hold of his character when Travolta forces him to confess. As I mentioned earlier, radio dialogs between the two of them were truly the highlight of this movie.
Too bad the rest of it was sacrificed on the altar of blockbuster popcorn fun.
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