Bullet Train Movie Review: Brad Pitt’s Action Vehicle Never Really Gets You Aboard
Bullet Train, as the name suggests, takes place on Japan’s eponymous high-speed rail network, officially known as the Shinkansen. For a film, this offers two things: unparalleled (narrative) momentum and a confined space that forces its characters inside a box. But annoyingly, in what is partly a trait borrowed from the 2010 Kōtarō Isaka novel on which it is based, Bullet Train continues to pump the brakes – literally and metaphorically. The first occurs when the Tokaido Shinkansen makes one-minute stops on its route. Rather than just using them as gateways to introduce new material (which it only does once), these stops usually derail the film. As for the latter, Bullet Train – released August 4 in India – stops regularly to dump the exposition or give us clues about the relevant backstory (also the exposition).
If you’re going to make a full action movie and most of it takes place inside a high-speed train, you need to get creative and make sure the action happens. But just as he failed on Deadpool 2 (generic and forgettable) and the Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw (incoherent and utterly cartoonish), Bullet Train director David Leitch also fails to turn on the power. ‘spark. There’s not a single choreographed sequence on Bullet Train that blows your mind. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that is frequently interrupted by another passenger or supporting character. There are flashes of interesting bits here and there, but they’re quickly drowned out in an attempt to be quirky or witty. It’s like Leitch learned all the wrong lessons from his time on Deadpool 2. For all the wins in those movies, the action wasn’t one of them.
And while Leitch did have Ryan Reynolds to cover Deadpool 2 – some might say take over as shadow director – and help fuel the film’s humor, he doesn’t have that luxury here. That’s not to say there isn’t humor here on Bullet Train. But most land as a second draft that clearly needed more finishing. I mean, on one occasion, Brad Pitt cracks the super grumpy “if you show me one finger, you get three back” joke. You know the script – by Zak Olkewicz (Fear Street: Part Two) – needs work if this line gets into your movie. The two most dedicated bits of humor are courtesy of Pitt spitting a therapeutic self-help speech and Brian Tyree Henry’s Thomas & Friends analogies. (Both have their origins in the novel.) It may sound weird, but believe me, the pieces of Thomas grow inside you.
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Guided by his handler (Sandra Bullock) via an earpiece and armed with a new perspective on life from his therapist, veteran American hitman Ladybug (Brad Pitt) boards the Shinkansen in Tokyo for his first assignment after a pause. His mission is simple: steal a briefcase and get off at the next stop. But Ladybug, who thinks she’s always been unlucky, knows it’s never that simple. (The element of bad luck and good luck is woven through the film. Bullet Train uses “luck” as a clever get-out-of-jail card for plot beats than anything else.) Just when it is about to disembark, he is accosted by Mexican gangster The Wolf (Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny) who has his own mission of revenge. But pay no attention. The wolf is one of the few characters that exist as an elaborate joke.
Except thanks to The Wolf, Ladybug finds herself in a quagmire, after the briefcase’s previous “owners” – British assassin duo Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – realize that he left. The briefcase is one of two things they’re supposed to escort, alongside the previously kidnapped son of Russian-Japanese crime boss The White Death (Michael Shannon). And somewhere in between those stories, there’s room in Bullet Train for The Prince (Joey King), a manipulative young woman posing as a British schoolgirl, who seeks revenge on The White Death for reasons not everything. quite clear. She forces Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), one of her former agents, to cooperate by threatening her hospitalized young son. (A later twist reveals how stupidly Kimura behaves.)
While the novel follows Japanese characters in Japan, the movie obviously doesn’t, as you can see. But if you’re adapting a novel for a major Hollywood studio, your hands are more or less tied. The unwritten rules of the industry necessitate a majority Hollywood cast and a majority English speaking film. But then why keep the Japanese decor?
First, it adds nothing to the film. The villainous yakuza in the novel have been replaced by a Russian. (I imagine Bullet Train understood the optics of having a big Japanese bad guy defeated by a bunch of Western guys in a movie in Japan.) Also, spare a thought for the film’s narrow worldview where it goes so far. in Japan, but then the villain is still Russian?! Because of course he is, in a movie made for Americans.
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And two, high-speed trains exist in Western countries. To circumvent the whitewashing complaints that Leitch and Co. knew were coming when they decided to go this route, Bullet Train smartly tries to include people from different countries (American to Pitt and African American in Zazie Beetz, British in Johnson and Black British in Henry, Mexican in Bad Bunny, Japanese in Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada and Karen Fukuhara, and “Russian” in Shannon and Logan Lerman).
But diversity doesn’t matter. Bullet Train mainly follows the four American and English actors: Pitt, King, Johnson and Henry. Pitt brings a laid-back demeanor to his killer that constantly brings him into conflict with the pent-up rage and fury of those around him. Henry and Johnson’s lemon and tangerine make a fun duo – while they continue to bicker constantly, there’s also a deep connection. King exists to impersonate a scared teenager and she does it well. Other than that, I wasn’t sold. It doesn’t help that his character feels tangential for the most part. And when its connection to the story is finally revealed, it lands with the sound of a stone plunging into the ocean, because Bullet Train hasn’t bothered to commit to the ideas it wants to explore. .
Meanwhile, the two main Japanese actors – Koji and Sanada – play full dramatic roles. It’s like Bullet Train believes actors are incapable of humor, but to me, that really says more about the writer. They are unable to consider Japanese actors as people who can be funny. Other supporting cast members may also not exist. Karen Fukuhara (The Boys) is stuck in a tiny corner, Zazie Beetz (Joker, Deadpool 2) has an unnecessary role, Sandra Bullock has a thankless role, and Bad Bunny is brought in – for an extended cameo and a full detailed story – just so the audience can laugh at her expense. Their characters have no agency, as they exist to enrich the diversity quota or serve other main characters.
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Bullet Train tries to make a meal out of its flashback scenes – either deeply sad (oh look, there’s a young boy on the fan), humorous (Lemon and Tangerine argue over whether they killed 16 or 17 people on the job) , melodramatic (a guy rises through the ranks of the mafia, falls in love, but then loses everything he holds dear) or pure coincidence (Ladybug crossed paths with two other assassins at a wedding he organized ). But truth be told, they lean more towards exposure than fun.
These asides are sometimes responsible for introducing Chekhov’s Guns – it sounds odd to hear that in the plural, but that’s the kind of movie Bullet Train is – into the far-reaching plot. There are three planted in the film, and you just know they have to explode at some point. But the results are either predictable, close to cheating, or disappointing.
And really, some of those adjectives apply to the movie as a whole as well. With a whitewashed and underutilized cast, a setting that never really justifies itself, and humor that needed more time in the oven, Bullet Train fails most of its accompaniments. And as for its main ingredient, Leitch showed he doesn’t know what makes a good deed for the third time in a row. (But Hollywood continues to trust him again and again. He then shoots another action movie called The Fall Guys starring Ryan Gosling.) To be fair, Bullet Train is definitely not as bad as that other action movie. big-budget summer vacation from two weeks ago. But it’s not a good movie either.
Bullet Train comes out Thursday, August 4 in 2D, IMAX and 4DX. In India, Bullet Train is available in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. There’s a scene during the credits, that’s all.
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