April 25, 2007

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (Sargent, 1974)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a tense, muscular thriller concerning four men who hijack a New York City subway train. The emphasis here is on realism, not sensationalism. Director Sargent makes fantastic use of his urban surroundings, creating a world that feels immensely genuine in every respect, and consequently all the more gripping. The dialogue is appropriately (and I might add wonderfully) profane. Peter Stone’s script pulsates with masculine, blue-collar vitality. The performances, especially from Matthau and his MTA cohorts have a lived-in, naturalistic authenticity about them. And Sargent’s appropriation of documentary aesthetics is truly inspired. DP Owen Roizman’s camera never calls attention to itself. Instead, Roizman documents the proceedings with an appropriate lack of stylization. But the film is so wonderfully authentic and immersed in the gritty milieu of the Big Apple that it would fascinate even without the titular hijacking. Beneath Sargent’s superior thriller lies an intriguing study of the inner workings of a metropolitan transit system, very much akin to a police procedural. The attention to detail is meticulous, especially in the film’s opening third. The current trend toward documentary aesthetics in narrative cinema, particularly action cinema (e.g. the cinema of Paul Greengrass), owes much to this film.

1 comment:

R.A. Naing said...

I should also point out the very interesting emphasis upon process. The film is very much about how processes govern our actions, and how we react to the strictures of these processes. From the very outset, Sargent highlights the notion of process. He shows us, in detail, the process of hijacking the train, and intercuts this with the daily routine of the MTA operators.

I'm also very intrigued by the visual motif of microphones/radios, and the linked theme of communication.