June 15th, 2009
08:15 AM ET

‘Pelham’ in post 9/11 New York

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Editor’s Note: You can read more Jami Floyd blogs on “In Session.”

Jami Floyd
AC360° contributor and In Session anchor

I just saw Pelham (as in “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3″. It is a remake of one of a 1970s film — one of my favorites during my childhood in New York City. This remake is every bit as good (though entirely different) from the original. The director Tony Scott is a master of action filmmaking and he’s updated this cat-and-mouse game with beautiful color, quick cutting and masterful camera work, not to mention two brilliantly cast marquee stars in Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

Scott’s New York City is beautiful, sleek and clean. If one is to speak honestly, it is more the New York City of our hearts and minds than the city we New Yorkers live in every day. There is only one rat in the entire film and nary a cockroach to be seen. But he captures the spirit of New York and turns it into a visual masterpiece.

At bottom, Pelham is an homage to our city and our beloved subway system; it is a fantastic film.

Yet, I hated it. As a person who rides the subway two, three and sometimes as many as six times a day, I found it entirely stressful and disconcerting. I was at the edge of my seat, but not in a good way. I would not expect everyone — or even every New Yorker — to have this reaction. But I did.

I knew what was coming. The train gets hijacked — or train-jacked. I knew what to expect. But I was unprepared for how very real it was.

The people on that subway car are the same people I see everyday; Denzel, a younger version of my father (the father who took me to see the original Pelham back in 1974); Travolta, every boy I went to St. Joseph’s school with, now middle-aged, still handsome but soft and paunchy.

On the train, there is a little boy, the same age as my little boy, with big brown eyes like my son’s. His mother is powerless to protect him. This was entirely too much for me to enjoy.

To make matters worse, every scene in this Pelham was familiar to me — the platform at Grand Central, Vanderbilt Ave., the 96th Street station, the First Avenue Underpass, Pier 17, South Ferry –all of it. Clearly, Scott not only loves this city but knows it intimately. Any filmmaker is required to cheat, here and there, on his geography; but Scott cheats so infrequently and so masterfully that only a stickler would notice, let alone care.

This is a post 9/11 New York, with a post 9/11 mayor and a post 9/11 sensibility. There were (as there needed to be) allusions to that fact, questions loosely posed about whether the hijackers were “terrorists” and what the word really means.

Of course, this movie could never have been made in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Back then, there was talk that we might never see these kinds of explosive action-packed thrillers again, as if our sensibilities had forever changed.

But they hadn’t. The genre has returned in full force, with this film contributing mightily to it.

We will never forget. But most Americans are ready to move on.

I suppose I am not one of them. I just couldn’t enjoy this movie. And it was surprising. I don’t scare easily. I can confront my fears on the page or on the screen. Good art forces us to do so.

So bring on the space Aliens, dinosaurs born in a test tube or even Jason or Freddy. But terrorism in New York? I am just not there yet.

Filed under: 360° Radar • In Session • Jami Floyd
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Mike "the Reputation Doctor" Paul

    Great commentary Jami! We fellow NYers hear you! As someone who received a call the day after 9/11 to work on the crisis, after experiencing it close up and downtown that morning myself, I too echo the opinion that many of us are still not totally ready to move on.

    We fear a subway terrorist attack because we recently viewed several in Europe and know it is all too real and something we think about often on the subway. Let's all be honest, 9/11 is not only a memory, we still live with it ever day.

    June 15, 2009 at 2:03 pm |