The Hostage situation has served cinema relatively well. From Dog Day Afternoon to many other inferior but still great movies, it rarely fails to at least entertain. The set-up itself is quite cinematic, the stakes are always clear and allows for some great act-offs, which is probably why it repeatedly attracts big names. Its the action movie that has no action, rather working on the sense of dread built up with lives permanently on the line. Taking of Pelham 123 isn't the best a movie like this could be, but its good enough.
The plot sees Ryder (John Travolta) and a group of relatively anonymous thugs hijack a subway car, stopping it in the middle of a tunnel and ten million in cash in an hour or they start shooting hostages. Train service operator Garber (Denzel Washington) just happens to be on the other end of the line when Ryder calls in. So ensues verbal sparring, plenty of speechifying and the obligatory body count. The hostage movie on the whole depends on the chemistry between the hostage taker and the Hostage negotiator/Civilian/other big name in the movie. Whomever. To tell you the truth I've never seen Washington put in a bad performance in a movie. I occasionally see him coast, but Denzel coasting is still better then a large percentage of the actors out there putting in their best performance. This character is a little more submissive then his usual stock though, and that's to his credit. Sure he comes through, but he doesn't start the movie as a strong man and that was promising. It tails off into generic heroisms toward the end but that's regrettably to be expected. Travolta, on the other hand is a little inconsistent. He is good in patches, but isn't rained in perhaps as much as he should be. This is the problem with Tony Scott movies. Whilst Tony is busy worrying about pointless flash touches that add nothing to anything, the actors always sink or swim on their own. Travolta is an inconsistent actor to the bone, as for every Pulp Fiction or Blow Out there's like a thousand Broken Arrow's. He can be great, but seemingly only under the supervision of a great director. Tony Scott's made some good movies, True Romance in particular, but he can't be called an actor's director. John Turturro turns up taking another paycheck, and unlike in Transformers where he took the piss, here he just looks bored. I enjoyed James Gandolfini's cameo as the mayor, the guy's a great actor and he is the closest thing the movie has to comic relief. That's about it really actor's wise. But the film is mostly about the Travolta/Washington face-off and that is entertaining enough. Shame about the end though, which is as generic as they come.
This movie has been done before and it has been done better, but there are worse ways to spend two hours.