TL;DR – Several interesting ideas are going on here, but they never coalesce into something worthy.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid to see this film
Bullet Train Review –
When you are making an action film, there are many different styles that you could employ. There is the grizzled machismo of movies like Rambo, the high-octane yet safe for families action of the Fast and the Furious films, or the grimy rawness of films like The Northman. But one of the more recent action styles has been this smooth, free-flowing, and fast-talking style of cinema that was thrown into the spotlight with Deadpool. While that style has been divisive, I have generally enjoyed it, and today we see another example of it in the form of Bullet Train.
So to set the scene, it has been a long road of recovery for ‘Lady Bug’ (Brad Pitt) since he got shot doing a job in Johannesburg. But he is finally ready to take on a new mission, and his handler (Sandra Bullock) has picked an easy one for him. He must go on to a bullet train stationed in Tokyo, Japan, retrieve a briefcase with a train sticker on the handle, and remove it before the train reaches Kyoto. The only issue is that ‘Lady Bug’ is not the only operative working a job on that train as “Lemon” (Brian Tyree Henry), “Tangerine” (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), “The Wolf” (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio), “The Prince” (Joey King), “The Father” (Andrew Koji), and “The Hornet” (Zazie Beetz) all have their own plans in how this will go.
While I had many issues with the film, that is not to say that it was all bad. Indeed there was quite a lot to like that was on show here. Nearly all of the action is set in one location, namely the titular bullet train, and the film does its best to make the most out of every inch of that train. At the start of the film, there are a lot of fights where the combatants are trying to hide what is going on from the rest of the train, including in the quiet car, which was fun to watch. There was also this moment where the film gives a stunt montage, which was basically just 87North Productions showing off, and I am here for it.
The MVPs have to be Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry on the acting front. Their interplay is one of the film’s strengths because you can see them throwing everything into the roles, something this kind of movie desperately needs. Also, I kind of liked all the Thomas the Tank Engine comparisons. After The Princess and now this, Joey King is really starting to stamp her mark on the action genre, and she works well in this duplicitous role. Also, adding Hiroyuki Sanada to your action film will never be a bad idea. However, Brad Pitt was a bit hit or miss for me as this carrier criminal trying to The Big Lebowski himself. It does lead to a couple of fun moments but mainly falls flat. As well as this, while I generally like Michael Shannon as an actor, he does not work here as the big bad. There was no real menace or thematic weight to his performance; frankly, he could have been one of the henchmen if not for the different mask.
All of this leads to the biggest problem that the film has, which is that it is narratively a mess. Now I know that part of that mess is by design. We see several characters’ different stories [as well as flashbacks]. So that everyone is only working with part of the information, it is not till the end that it all lines up. This narrative device could have worked, but here it sadly didn’t. There were a couple of big twists that just didn’t land, characters that we are meant to care about that get no actual screen time, and issues and motivations that the film never bothers to clear up. The movie did not have the narrative strength to support what it wanted to do, and you feel it throughout the runtime. It also felt that at no point did anyone on production take Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto.
In the end, do we recommend Bullet Train? Well? Look, this should have been an easy sell with the cast both in front and the production behind the camera. But as the third act wound on, I cared less and less about the narrative, characters, and film in general. If you like this action style, there will probably be something there for you. But, I don’t think this will be worth it for most. If you liked Bullet Train, I would recommend to you John Wick: Chapter 3.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Bullet Train
Directed by – David Leitch
Screenplay by – Zak Olkewicz
Based on – Bullet Train (Maria Beetle) by Kōtarō Isaka
Music by – Dominic Lewis
Cinematography by – Jonathan Sela
Edited by – Elisabet Ronaldsdottir
Production/Distribution Companies – Columbia Pictures, Fuqua Films, 87North Productions & Sony Pictures.
Starring – Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yoshi Sudarso, Michael Shannon, Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Masi Oka & Karen Fukuhara with Channing Tatum & Ryan Reynolds
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R