Saturday, June 13, 2009

TONY'S WORLD

Simply put, Tony Scott's The Taking of Pelham 123 (A) is fucking awesome. Bloody, profane, and obsessively stylish, it's a crisply written two-hander with juicy performances from Denzel Washington as the morally conflicted hero and a sneering, cussing John Travolta, in one of his best performances, as the psychopathic villain. It's clear he loved the role; he's in Face/Off territory here. Make no mistake: this film isn't going to win awards. It's not gonna make top 10 lists. It's just a souped up genre film. But what it does is take a well-worn narrative (the hostage crisis thriller scenario) and amp up the thrills and excitement with sexy cinematography and flashy editing techniques, which makes for a fast-moving piece of hard-edged entertainment. Tony Scott brings the visceral in all of his movies; this one is no exception. My first thought is that Pelham played liked a totally bad-ass cross between Man on Fire and Crimson Tide. And that, at the end of the day, is what Tony Scott is all about -- being a total fuckin' bad ass. Hell -- I know this for a fact as I worked for the guy. In a Tony Scott film, the star of the movies is the man behind the camera. It doesn't really matter what the plot is, or who is starring in it. The guy's an auteur of the first order -- something that no elitist "critic" might want to admit, but deep down inside, they know is true. Over the last 30 years, Scott (and his brother, Ridley), have done more to set the visual standards employed by their peers than maybe anybody else out there (Spielberg is an exception). Guys like Bay and Fincher and Spike Jonze and Johnathan Glazer (just to name a few) have all been clearly influenced by what Scott has been doing. And even though he's almost pushing 70 years old, Scott is showing no signs of slowing up. His films keep getting bolder, faster, more intense, and more visually audacious. Just watch Domino; the guy practically re-invented the wheel with that film. Watching his movies is like watching two hours of Picasso-esque images (only moving) while tripping on a bit of mescalin; it's like Scott's operating in some sort of acid-tinged cubist form. I love how impressionistic his cinematography can be; even the simplest of shots and situations are gussied up with camera calisthenics. In Pelham, he's working with shooter Tobias Schleisser, who shot Friday Night Lights and Hancock for Peter Berg (another young helmer who would probably name Scott as an influence). I realize that I have barely touched on the story of Pelham -- but if you've seen the trailer, you know the deal. Travolta is really pissed off. He holds up an NYC subway car and demands $10 million from the mayor (a perfectly cast James Gandolfini). Denzel Washington is the man on the other end of the microphone as Walter Garber, an MTA employee with a questionable past. The crafty screenplay by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Man on Fire, Mystic River) is loaded with terrific zingers for Travolta, some solid comedic moments, and gets down to nasty business whenever the time calls for it. This is a happily R-rated adult-oriented actioner that only someone like Tony Scott could do these days. When people get shot in this movie, the squibb guy definitely earned his pay for the day. There's a great shoot-out towards the finale, some wonderful vehicular acrobatics, and lots of manly showdowns between the two leads. It's loud, aggressive, and ass-kicking. I fucking loved every moment of it.

8 comments:

LexOwnsYou said...

Actionman, I'm sure you've seen Tony's short AGENT ORANGE, but just in case you haven't, I was thinking about it a lot during TAKING..., especially during the opening credits montage:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SiuRMSe1e8

Actionman said...

Yes, have seen it a few times. It's delicious.

Did you love Pelham too? I know you were excited...

uncle fred said...

i like you.

uncle fred said...

I will see this on Tuesday and report back

Joel said...

Pretty awesome flick. Saw it today. Not perfect, in my opinion, as there is one HUGELY improbable plot device (not giving anything away to say that it involves a hostage's laptop) that somewhat ruined the suspense at times. But other than that, it's well-acted and well-developed. And fridiggin' intense for all 106 minutes. Not surprising, since Brian Helgeland who, as you said, wrote Mystic River. Tense plotting.

LexOwnsYou said...

"Hey greaseball, what'd you do, stop for a pizza?"

WTF was with Travolta's bizarre obsession with ethnicities? It never paid off really and just seemed kind of odd and undeveloped. Though I'm going to use that PIZZA taunt everywhere.

A-man, I saw it twice but have to put it more in line with Deja Vu Tony than one of his greats. Solid and I enjoyed the Tony-isms, but if I'm being honest I kind of miss PRIMARY COLORS in his movies. He's done the desaturated color-timing thing since EOTS or at least SPY GAME and on some level I miss the painterly compositions of his '80s and early '90s stuff.

Actionman said...

I know what you mean, Lex. The primary colors thing has been picked up by Bay. Tony's style has been constantly evolving...I really dig his recent dip into grittiness but I do sometimes yearn for extra-glossy Tony.

And yes, it's just a genre film, it's not a game-changer like True Romance or Domino, but I loved it nonetheless.

Glad you liked it, Joel. Without spoiling it, I didn't really think there was that big of a plot hole with the laptop. It all made sense to me...no?

Joel said...

Well, it wasn't a plot hole, it was just so ridiculous that it brought the film down a notch for me. The henchman would've found it MUCH faster than they did, so it kinda ruined some suspense areas for me. Still the movie's awesome and I gave it ***1/2, which is what I gave Deja Vu, as well.