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Bullet Train with Brad Pitt — murder on the Osaka express
Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch and leading man Brad Pitt, bring us ‘Bullet Train’, a thrilling non-stop action comedy about competing assassins on Japan's Shinkansen.
Some of us have a nasty habit of expecting too much from the movies we choose to see. Blame it all on Marvel’s end-credit scenes if you want, but films must have a cost value in regards to how they make you feel in the moment. We also expect big-screen entertainment to constantly blow our minds when, in truth, a film can just be a fun diversion. That’s the case with Brad Pitt’s newest effort, Bullet Train. It’s a fun movie, even if it doesn’t reinvent the wheels on which it’s running. Not that it ever had to.
Based on the Japanese novel by Kōtarō Isaka, Bullet Train follows philosophical assassin and retrieval man Ladybug (played by Pitt) as he accepts a quick job aboard a bullet train bound from Tokyo to Kyoto. Guided by his handler Maria (Sandra Bullock), Ladybug’s straightforward gig takes a left turn as it transpires that the train is full of other assassins all pursuing their own targets and agendas.
This line-up includes fraternal duo Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry, a supposedly innocent Joey King, a vengeful Benito A Martìnez Ocasio (aka Bad Bunny), a sinister Zazie Beetz, and father-and-son powerhouse duo Hiroyuki Sanada and Andrew Koji. But even more nefarious individuals emerge from the baggage compartments as the journey continues, and Ladybug finds himself in the middle of a criminal conspiracy that threatens to derail everything around him.
Director David Leitch is juggling dozens of plot points and twists thanks to the high amount of character work going on. One wouldn’t be surprised to watch this film collapse under its ambition, but when going into Bullet Train with the expectation that it’s just going to be a disposable stunt-laden action comedy, there’s a surprise in discovering its many layers.
Let’s be clear, Leitch is heavily leaning into the ways of his prior projects. The comedy is reminiscent of Deadpool 2 (without being excruciatingly meta) and the more absurd elements of the plot would sit well in another Hobbs & Shaw outing. The movie also wears its inspirations on its sleeve, as it combines a little bit of Kill Bill sword fighting with some Knives Out mystery for good measure. Meanwhile, given the Japanese setting, the cinematography style can very easily be attributed to popular anime. Despite all this, Leitch is first and foremost an action director, and Bullet Train delivers that substance on time and in good quantities.
The locomotive pacing also works in favour of a movie that ultimately, though ironically, doesn’t involve a lot of travelling. Unlike movies with multiple locations and contrasting scene transitions, we are stuck firmly on board the train. There are different types of cars but differentiating them is mostly down to lighting contrasts. Fortunately, the fact that something is always happening, and the dialogue is lathered in charisma, means that you’re always watching attentively. Things are never boring.
At the same time, the stunt work is forced to get creative due to the confined space of train carriages. Towards the third act, where the stakes have been raised, it pairs well with the CGI-heavy moments in fun ways and the excellently choreographed fight scenes.
True to Leitch’s previous work, the characters all have murder methods that are visceral and bloody, allowing for kill scenes to stand out while the film’s visuals take point. Japan (at least what we see of it) is drenched in neon with many of the culture’s mannerisms on display, and there’s a great manifestation of kawaii culture that’s built into the onscreen world. There are also some Japanese covers of popular songs sprinkled in between composer Dominic Lewis’s score, which adds even more to the atmosphere.
Back to that character work, Bullet Train’s narrative complexity rises from there being so many players in this game. The cast is vast and even holds a few surprises dotted about, with some of the most fun overacting you’ll find in a recent release. Brad Pitt is an out-of-type lead who embodies a bumbling bystander (though very competent in what he does for a living) caught up in something he has no idea about. Joey King and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are clearly having a good time, and Hiroyuki Sanada continues to do no wrong in any film he’s in. All the performances are honest winners, although Brian Tyree Henry and his hilarious worldly philosophies all tied into a popular children’s character stand out.
Emotional investment is generally not what you should expect from a movie like Bullet Train. That said, Koji and Sanada’s backstory and motivation serve as the main stakes throughout the film.
Despite its lacking emotional depth and the fact that it’s unlikely the film will remain on people’s minds long after they’ve seen it, Bullet Train serves up a dose of exhilarating action and good comedy to boot. The characters and action sequences are strong, and the premise lends itself to some enjoyable twists, turns, and an overall good build-up to the finale. DM/ ML
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com
Bullet Train is available in cinemas.
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