Denzel Washington, John Travolta. Action/crime/suspense. Written by Brian Helgeland. Directed by Tony Scott.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Fatefully, amid allegations of bribery, New York subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Washington) finds himself in a war of wits with a demented, foul-mouthed criminal (Travolta) who’s hijacking a subway train in order to carry off a carefully planned heist.
PREVIEW REVIEW: Tersely directed by Tony Scott (Man On Fire, Déjà Vu, and producer of The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford), smartly written by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, Man on Fire) and fully realized performances given by two of the best, Denzel Washington and John Travolta, this is movies! You’re on the edge of your seat, caught up in a crime drama that’s also a morality play, a layered character study concerning one man moving toward redemption while another runs from it.
Had this been made in the 1940s, however, the film would have avoided the excesses of brutality, and left out obscenity of any kind. The Asphalt Jungle from 1950 springs to mind, also adroitly constructed and performed, but lacking today’s copious amounts of brutal verbiage and slap-you-in-the-face violence.
It must be said that the cacophonous f-bomb co-stars alongside Washington and Travolta, making its appearance over 60 times. Although we can accept such vile language from the crazed rogue, the film purports that no one in the city of Manhattan is able to get through a simple declarative sentence without engaging the abrasive word. Even Denzel, a professing Christian in real life, uses the middle digit twice as an alternative to that obscenity. Fireman, cops, the mayor, even a teenaged girl watching her hijacked boyfriend via a computer cam, nearly every character in the picture uses the word as if it’s the new “damn".
Along with the scriptural teachings of Ephesians 4:29 (“Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths…”), I also question the artistic merit of using such an offensive word 60 times in one film. We moviegoers have become numbed by the intemperance of script writers, and while words do impact the spirit, language is given little regard by those in the artistic community – even by those who profess to be proponents of Psalm 101 (“I will set before my eyes no vile thing”). I suppose our psyches can handle these verbal abuses, but is it what God intended for us?
We also are subjected to several point-blank murders and a couple of car chases that end in a crumpled mess. Being jolted is par for the course in a suspense thriller, but it would seem that even the makers of a topnotch suspense drama can’t rely on battle-of-wits-dialogue or a taut dramatic execution without a screeching car chase or two.
DVD Alternative: The Asphalt Jungle. Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe and a scene-stealing newcomer, Marilyn Monroe, star in this gripping tale of a robbery that slowly falls apart. John Huston co-wrote and directed this taut crime caper that’s as much a character study as a suspense adventure. I understand that younger generations would hesitate to view a black & white film starring people even their parents haven’t heard of, but if they can put those prejudices aside, they’ll find themselves face to face with pure filmmaking artistry.
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