Bullet Train Review: Brad Pitt Leads This High-Speed Battle Royale
The bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about two hours and 15 minutes — just the right amount of time to shoot a cartoonishly over-the-top action film about half a dozen assassins shooting, stabbing and poke each other in pretty little faces in pursuit of one with Briefcase stuffed with cash. It’s a high-stakes game of hot potatoes, choreographed and performed by “Atomic Blonde” director David Leitch, in which a self-deprecating Brat Pitt wears a bucket hat and oversized glasses, Bryan Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson a bickering “twin “play” hitmen Lemon and Tangerine, and wedding cracker Joey King (known here as “the Prince”) from “The Princess” is a cunning hitman who can fake on command.
These characters — and a half-dozen other deadly so-and-so’s with names like “the Hornet” (Zazie Beetz) and “the Wolf” (Benito A Martínez Ocasio, a.k.a. “Bad Bunny”) — are covered by giant on-screen labels like Martin Scorsese or Guy Ritchie like to introduce their ensembles to their shock-frozen cups. “Bullet Train” seems to spring from the same brain as “Snatch” and wears his pop style on the sleeve – a mixture of martial arts, manga and Gabby Hitman movie influences on “Kill Bill” level.
Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz adapt Kotaro Isaka’s pulp novel MariaBeetle, making each of these characters twice as eccentric as necessary to keep the audience’s attention engaged. Pitt’s catchy tune, Maria (voiced by Sandra Bullock) guides the new non-violent tough guy (a detail recently seen in the Hitman’s Bodyguard movies) through what is said to be the most comfortable job of his career: boarding the bullet train and snapping in Tokyo the MacGuffin and get off at the next stop. Cha-ching does the choo-choo. Except that Ladybug (as Pitt’s character is called) is very unlucky and seems to have more killers crammed in here than Agatha Christie could fit on the Orient Express.
Meanwhile, innocent bystanders are at a minimum. There’s a busy woman who keeps silencing Ladybug and Lemon when their fistfight gets too disruptive, but after a few stops, practically the only passengers remain on board, who would literally kill for that briefcase. There’s also an incredibly venomous Boomslang snake whose venom takes effect in 30 seconds and causes victims to bleed from their eyes, like poor Logan Lerman (the first character to bite her and the rest of the film in a limp “Weekend at Bernie’s “served” mode).
The film’s strategy is to keep throwing deadly obstacles in the way of Pitt’s character, who gets his hands on the bulletproof Tumi fairly early on. Ladybug is remarkably good at improvising out of trouble – even when the film ends up literally falling apart. Hosting all this chaos on board a train wasn’t Leitch’s idea, although the stuntman-turned-director makes the most of this constraint by staging visually interesting set pieces in various cars. Ladybug and the wolf have a knife fight in the bar area. Later, he and Tangerine destroy the kitchen. There’s some fun stuff going on in a neon-lit section of the train that involves a local children’s show mascot, who keeps getting slapped in the face. Even the toilets are fair game.
The fight scenes feel relatively original, which is impressive in itself considering how many other creative filmmakers are trying to make their mark in the genre. Leitch tends to approach these standoffs the way Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire once did their dance numbers: the violence doesn’t have to be taken literally (which is sometimes harsh, given how brutal the bloodshed can be), but rather for theirs Appreciated choreography and the ability to surprise.
Still, it’s almost inexcusable how casually Leitch takes lives. One of the first and most ambitious blockbusters brought on by a pandemic, Bullet Train demonstrates that Leitch and co. were confident enough that the world would return to normal that they could get the prince to give birth to a six-year-old Pushing off a roof only to lure the child’s father (Andrew Koji, by far the film’s weakest link) onto the train. A real piece of work, King’s character sports a black bob and a pink schoolgirl-style getup. She is a heartless manipulator who frequently poses as an innocent victim to seduce her prey.
Finally, Bullet Train reveals that behind this far from random raid of assassins was an elaborate plan by the terrifying Japanese crime boss White Death (Michael Shannon) to avenge the death of his wife. But he’s not the only one to have lost a loved one, as the samurai-like Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) demonstrates when he enters a stop or two before Kyoto.
Bullet Train’s geographic logic doesn’t make much sense, but then again, the movie looks like it was made without the main cast even setting foot in Japan. And why not? It’s essentially a live-action cartoon that tries its best to channel the likes of Tarantino and Ritchie, even if the dialogue and played British accents aren’t anywhere near the standards to merit such comparisons. (What does Michael Shannon even play?)
Tangerine and Lemon are likable characters, though the latter constantly brags that everything he’s learned about humans came from Thomas the Tank Engine (which explains a lot about how reductive the film’s understanding of humans is). Similarly, Ladybug constantly quotes hackneyed self-help aphorisms that inevitably draw laughs. This might be an entertaining ride, but such punch lines drive home that neither the characters nor the movie they inhabit are particularly deep. To quote Calvin and Hobbes, their train of thought is still arriving at the station.
https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/bullet-train-review-brad-pitt-1235331291/ Bullet Train Review: Brad Pitt Leads This High-Speed Battle Royale