A smartly written film.
Bullet Train is one of those films that reminds you how much creativity it takes to write smart stupidity.
Perhaps the least shocking factoid about Bullet Train is that it’s directed by David Leitch, the man behind John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Nobody. The film stars Brad Pitt as secret operative codename Ladybug, a name he’s given ironically due to his pension for unlucky events to follow him around. Ladybug’s job is to infiltrate a bullet train in Japan, which I’m told is a country in not-America, and steal a briefcase that has a bunch of money in it. Little does he know that the briefcase is presently in the hands of two other secret operatives codenamed Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), both of whom have been tasked with seeing the briefcase and “The Son” (Logan Lerman) back into the hands of his father White Death (Michael Shannon), the Russian leader of a Japanese crime syndicate. Yeah, it’s a ridiculous premise.
There’s a bunch of people on board the train all tangentially related to the briefcase and our general main cast. It’s like someone merged Reservoir Dogs with a Kenneth Branagh Agatha Christie adaptation and sprinkled in some Jackie Chan goofy yet masterfully choreographed fight sequences for good effect.
The whole cast is fantastic. Brian Tyree Henry was a charmer and one of the few positive notes in Eternals as Phastos, and he does a great job as the ever-philosophical Lemon trading witty remarks with his brother and co-worker Tangerine. The two have the sort of chemistry that Travolta and Jackson did in Pulp Fiction while also being their own thing. Brad Pitt is of course Brad Pitt, and he does a fantastic job as a goofy agent seeking his emotional center to live out the rest of his career trying to take jobs less prone to causing death and violence, and having a bad time of it.
One of my favorite actors in this film isn’t really an actor at all, Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio or as some may know him; Bad Bunny. You’d never know Ocasio wasn’t a longtime actor given his brief but highly entertaining performance in this film, but the dude is a Puerto Rican rapper and I guess he appeared in WWE a few times as a wrestler. Apparently Sony was so impressed by his performance in Bullet Train that they immediately signed him on as a starring role in an upcoming Spider-Man film as El Muerto. Who is a character in Spider-Man, I don’t know I don’t read that nerd shit. Which makes sense, since once I got home from the theater one of the first things I did was to go online and see what other films he’s been in expecting a lot of foreign movies and maybe a few TV episodes. His entire prior film portfolio is a background character in F9.
Hiroyuki Sanada is here, a fine return for the guy who has basically been every Japanese villain in the recent Marvel films as well as old Scorpion in the Mortal Kombat movie. How About Notflix readers may also remember him as Bly Tanaka in the Army of the Dead film, the guy whose bank they try to rob in Army of Thieves. There’s a lot of really good actors here like Michael Shannon, Zazie Beetz which makes complete sense as she played Domino in Deadpool 2 and Brad Pitt’s Ladybug is basically the exact opposite of her superpower of good luck. Joey King is here, who I have not seen in a film since she was a tiny child in The Conjuring. I don’t know what happened to her in the last decade but somewhere in that time frame she turned into a very talented adult actress. There’s a few uncredited cameo appearances that you kinda have to see for yourself.
Bullet Train is a fun film, and of the three groups of old people I walked out of the theater with every single one of them exclaimed how much they hated it on the way out. The highlight of the film is in the fight choreography, with incredibly well shot and performed fight sequences often in very cramped areas of a rather small train. The movie is not quite Tarantino levels of blood splatter, but there’s plenty of blood and gore to go around. It does however have that Tarantino level of witty banter between characters. The cast perfectly plays their role as exaggerated yet grounded spies of varying allegiance, and there really isn’t a weak link as far as I could see.
The only bad things I can say about Bullet Train is that it’s almost masturbatory in how much the writers shove their creativity for setups and payoffs in the audience’s face. Yeah, no, I get it; the constant cutaway shots to the venomous snake who you went out of your way to point out several times is venomous and a snake was leading up to someone getting bitten by the snake. I don’t need a minute-long cutaway when that payoff happens to show the journey of how the snake got there. There are a lot of flashbacks in this film, some of which are far too long given they establish a point of little lasting relevance to the plot. The going line in cinema is “show, don’t tell” and Bullet Train likes to show and tell, bringing the plot to a full halt (ironic given it’s literally a movie titled and taking place on a fast moving bullet train) to establish some information. It also seems heavily geared toward the non-English speaking populace given Brad Pitt is constantly on the phone with his handler (Sandra Bullock) expositing why some character is important. Hey, that’s the lady from the wedding assassination a few years back! Cue a flashback where we see exactly what Pitt just said.
Judging by the reactions of the people in the theater with me, Bullet Train is one of those films that you either connect with or it just seems to fail to impress. In my case I did enjoy the movie over the course of the two hours and got a good amount of laughs out of it. There’s a lot of silly moments like Pitt and Henry having a silent fight in the quiet train, or Pitt and Johnson having a fight in the snack car interrupted by a kind concession girl. The fight sequences themselves are impressively done, and there’s something about the fact that most of the people involved are not comedy actors that makes the deadpan comedy all the better.
Will I watch it again? Probably not soon. If it comes to a streaming sub, definitely add it to your list.