Top Gun. Beverly Hills Cop II. Days of Thunder (aka Top Gun With Cars). Crimson Tide. If you’ve seen these movies, your dad probably made you. They are ‘dad’ movies, full of things that dads love. Cars, fighter jets, cops, cops from Beverly Hills. Icemen. & most importantly, a nearly absolute lack of flair. It seems that you can either have a mortgage or style, but not both. These classic snoozers also comprise the 1st era in filmmaker Tony Scott’s career.
Flash forward a decade. In Man on Fire, Denzel Washington is on so much fire that when he talks, words fly out of his mouth. In Domino, Keira Knightley plays a model-turned-bounty-hunter-turned-the-color-yellow. It looks like the film was developed on one of those things that you put paper on and spin really fast, & then you drip paint on the paper and it comes out all swirly. Little more than blasty, insane flair. These movies represent one of the more outlandish styles in Hollywood, & the current era in Tony Scott’s career.
You know how when your dad hangs out with his buddies, maybe at a barbecue, they just listen to dad music? The Steve Miller Band, George Thorogood, maybe The Rolling Stones if you’re lucky? But when your dad has to drives you and your friends to the mall, he goes, “Hey I got that new Lifehouse CD, it’s pretty good!” and plays it to impress your friends, and you get embarrassed? That’s exactly what Tony Scott did with his career. “Hey I heard that fast editing you kids like. I gave it a whirl, and you know it’s pretty neat! Pretty cool for an old fogey, huh?”Long story short, I wasn’t thrilled to see The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. I’ve never enjoyed Scott’s newfound style, and was pretty neutral on his early films. But this one’s good, go figure!
A madman (John Travolta) takes a subway train hostage. He wants the usual bunch of money. Walter Garber (Denzel) gets the first call from the nutball, and has to survive his deadly game. An intense premise like that could do for some visual flavor. Not so much as Domino though. Luckily, Tony Scott pulls his style back some for Pelham. This is a hostage standoff, the characters sit in a couple rooms and talk for most of the movie. It’s important to get some idea of them. There are still freeze frames and fast cuts and cameras that spin so much I really did get a bit nauseous, but thankfully the characters manage to stay in focus.As a psycho, John Travolta delivers the surprisingly strong performance. He keeps a glint in his eye throughout that reminds you, the monster has a plan. Denzel Washington plays another hero who just can’t help doing the right thing all the time. To make him seem flawed, the filmmakers give him a mortgage and a gut, neither of which affect the story, in hopes that gut equals regular person equals flawed. As a regular person, maybe that hurts my feelings. John Turturro and James Gandolfini round the cast out with understated, but strong turns. The performances err on the side of caution and usually don’t go over-the-top.
The story doesn’t waste time, and sustains its intensity. The performances, minus Denzel, keep the characters endearing and dynamic. It comes off as easy fun without stooping into vulgarity. Good for a matinee, great if you wait for the dollar theater.Next week: Cheer one or jeer one for Year One?
Happy Father’s Day!