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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

How did the New York subway system not kill Denzel Washington during the filming of this movie?

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“Who model?” The answer to this unlikely question begins the rapid denouement of director Tony Scott’s re-purposing of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.

Up until this point in the film — and Scott swears in the commentary track it is not a remake of the 1974 original — the tension has wound steadily tighter as a subway train is hijacked, a ransom demand is made and hostages begin to die.

This caper story has been told as a novel, the 1974 movie of the same name and a 1998 TV movie.

Scott’s 2009 version hits all the high points of action and intrigue with a strong cast. John Travolta is Ryder, the manic, tattooed boss of the hijack crew — ruthless and unpredictable. Denzel Washington is cast as an almost nerdy civil servant, the dispatcher Walter Garber, stuck as the main negotiator in cat-andmouse ransom talks with Ryder. The movie gets dramatic thrust from a one-hour deadline to deliver $10 million to the hijacked subway car before hostages get shot a minute apart.

In the original film, Walter Matthau played Zachary Garber, a transit system cop. Washington’s character is more of an everyman, and the renaming to Walter Garber is said to be props to Matthau.

James Gandolfini as the New York mayor, played largely for laughs, asks the crucial question about the ass model that is key to finding Ryder’s true identity and unraveling the hijack plot.

The DVD is fully loaded with extras. There is a 30-minute “making of” feature, a 15-minute feature about the actual New York subway system and how it ran 300 movie people through safety training so they wouldn’t kill Denzel Washington in the tunnels.

Scott, a diligent researcher, describes his quest for accurate hairstyles for his characters as — hilariously — he is getting his hair done. The feature takes four minutes because that’s about how much hair Scott has left. (Rated R) n

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