In a film like Bullet Train, a film that mostly takes place in one location, the most important character needs to be the location itself. With one location, not only is it cost-effective but as a filmmaker, you are presented with a golden opportunity to work with one of the most effective narratives in cinema, a story about characters being stuck in one place. It must have been a surreal experience for David Leitch to be directing Brad Pitt, the same actor he used to stunt double for. Not only that, but Leitch has also been on a hot streak of good action since his beginnings as a director, so I was curious to see if he could keep his own streak alive. Well, I can honestly say that the pace of Bullet Train’s action matches the pace of the train itself, there are still some simple lessons to learn to keep Leitch’s good work on track.
Bullet Train took me completely by surprise by just how the writing could include all these different conflicts and fully resolve each and everyone by the final act. In all honesty, I would have taken the seemingly simple plot of various assassins on a bullet train all after a briefcase, but this story is much broader than I could have imagined. Brad Pitt plays Ladybug, a freshly optimistic assassin with a history of terrible luck who is tasked with simply retrieving a briefcase. Simple right, wrong. On board are Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a West Ham supporter and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), a supporter of Thomas the Tank Engine, also assassins tasked with escorting the son of the White Death, the leader of a criminal organisation to safety. While that’s happening a schoolgirl mercenary The Prince (Joey King) threatens The Father (Andrew Koji), a member of White Death’s organisation to help her kill White Death. Aside from all the name-dropping, there are so many characters and personal goals to spin like plates, but even when I thought it was failing, the film manages to pull it out of the bag eventually.
The relationship between Tangerine and Lemon is by far the most endearing part of Bullet Train and their antics are what keep the film steady as an action comedy. The East London accents from Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry are corny, but it works with their very witty dialogue. The two do joke a lot which gives the film a pinch of not taking itself too seriously, but when events turn serious, their relationship turns from being comic relief to something that can be very moving.
The film is very character-focused, right down to the exploration of fate and/or luck. This theme runs through the veins of the story and comes to play in some simple and clever ways. The simplest way is through The Ladybug and The Prince, one with insanely bad luck, one with insanely good luck. It’s very entertaining to see both sides of the coin and makes for some good laughs. In a cleverer way, how a lot of characters meet their fate in this film is down to bad luck, and who comes out on the good end? The Ladybug, the character with the worst luck. You can clearly tell in these moments that the writers loved playing around with this theme and the audience enjoys it because they were having so much fun.
I think you can tell at this point that Bullet Train is a really fun watch, but it’s not a perfect fun watch. I started to pick up on a few things that I felt were like the film applying its own emergency breaks. For instance, my biggest concern with the film was that tonally and stylistically it is all over the place. I’m pretty sure that the filmmakers, for a long time, couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a serious action film or a comedic action film. I say this because, on one hand, you have all the techniques of an action film being a serious one. Intense exposition scenes, bloody violence and extreme action sequences to name a few, but you also have fourth wall breaking, snappy camera movements to visual punchlines and graphic design displaying character names. Leitch had a similar problem with Deadpool 2 where it wasn’t clear what style and tone pathway he wanted to take, and it’s a shame to see the same mistake being made here.
That questioning of film style actually raises another point about the inspiration for Bullet Train. A lot of people have been comparing this to other films from the like of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie and while I do believe that these comparisons are sometimes audiences grasping at straws for familiarity, but once you see it, it can be hard to forget. This point isn’t entirely built on familiarity, there are a couple scenes that look as though they came from a Tarantino or Ritchie film, but it really does depend on perspective whether you see this as a film taking inspiration from these directors or borrowing their style of filmmaking.
There are two characters that are essentially throwaway characters, The Wolf and The Hornet (also assassins). They’re only in the film for one scene but the costumes and look of the characters are very visually striking, which is why it’s disappointing to see them killed off so quickly, they’re look makes you want to discover more about them.
While arguments can be made for Bullet Train’s uniqueness, I can’t deny that this film is a blast to watch. I thought that the script is a lot smarter than people think, possibly one of the smartest scripts this year. Brad Pitt and co all pull their weight with eccentric performances that stabilise the comedy. It’s a pretty great viewing experience when a film is not as simple as it seems, but I think that comes with most David Leitch films, just look at the world of John Wick (for which he is uncredited). Bullet Train may come as a surprise to many and I believe that if Leitch can solve the continuous problems of his films, we’ve got a household action director in the making.
Final Result: 7/10 – Good
Have you seen Bullet Train? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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