Tony Scott's update of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 features what is essentially a hostage taker's worst nightmare. Ryder (John Travolta) is not like the Robert Shaw character from the original 1970's film. He will shoot the hostage if you mess with him. There is only one instance where he spares a life at the last second and it is at the expense of another, that being the career of Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) who admits to a crime to save a life. When Ryder does execute a few hostages, he doesn't pull any punches as he fires several extra rounds into their already lifeless bodies. This sense of danger keeps the film constantly on edge with Travolta playing Ryder like a loose trigger and Garber is seemingly the only man who can anchor him.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was surprisingly entertaining, and Tony Scott both contributes and detracts from the quality of the piece as a hole. It's his eye for action and the ability to set up multiple points of view on a single instance that (while still letting us know about the characters, but part of that is thanks owed to screenwriters Brian Hedgeland and David Koepp) makes this more than just a mindless two hour thrill. Then again, Scott's visual style isn't always suited to certain moments as we get random camera swoops through the streets of city buildings and brief character interactions from what is usually two random cops (kind of like how George Lucas will just focus in on an alien in Star Wars just for the sake of seeing an alien). Despite the "get-in, get-out" style of camera work and the ruthlessness of Travolta's character, the plot of the film has been adjusted for more modern times. Ryder now has a lot more convincing motivations and Garber is much more tortured as opposed to wry Walter Matthau. Similar to the films of Michael Mann, we get a glimpse at what is really behind these characters so we can all get to know them but we are still kept at arm's length as not to be too attached to anyone in particular.
The supporting cast is also second to none. John Turturro, James Gandolfini, Luis Guzman, and Michael Rispoli all work together to give us this authentic feeling of a day of terror in New York City. Finally, the film is so quick-thinking and chaotic that you do feel the energy from it all rattling around in you, if you are relaxed enough. Sit back and enjoy the violence, just don't take it all too seriously, especially in a post-9/11 world. This is entertainment, pure and simple.