Bullet Train feels like a movie from a different era. Specifically, it feels like a mid-2000s action movie, Smokin’ Aces very much comes to mind, with a dash of early Guy Ritchie and a sprinkle of Tarantino for flavour. Coming to us from David Leitch, who has co-directed the first John Wick and has since gone on to direct Deadpool 2, Hobbs and Shaw and Atomic Blonde, Bullet Train is a wild ride, full of zany characters and crazy action. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly fun.
Brad Pitt leads an ensemble cast in Bullet Train as “Ladybug”, a mercenary who comes back into the game and seeks an easy first job after seeking help to change his life. He’s abandoned the violence in life and seeks to use words and non-violent means to do his work. This is why he requests his first job be a “snatch and grab” job, where he boards a bullet train in Tokyo in order to grab a briefcase and get off the train. Easy enough on paper, right? And it would be if there wasn’t a lot more happening on this train. Other mercenaries are aboard, each with their own agenda and unaware of the other parties. What’s going on is all part of the fun.
What stands out the most in the movie are the characters and the wit. This is a surprisingly funny movie, much in the way Lock Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels or Snatch is. The dialogue is very quick and snappy and you have to be paying attention to catch all the jokes as they’re quick and sometimes even subtle. It’s great to see Pitt back in an action/comedy role, as I find he’s got great comedic timing and his pacifist mercenary thrown into the mayhem provides a lot of quippy reactionary dialogue.
And while Brad Pitt is great in the movie, the highlight is easily the twins Tangerine and Lemon, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry respectively. These two are worth the price of admission alone. The two actors have fantastic chemistry together, constantly bouncing off one and other with hilarious dialogue and unexpected references. They steal the movie from right under Pitt, which is no easy feat to do.
Another plus is the over-the-top action. Leitch, a former stuntman, has consistently delivered when it comes to action, understanding how to blend fun choreography with cinematography that allows us to appreciate this. Due to the confined nature of the bullet train, one might worry that the action would feel cramped, but it never does and the action is fluid. Is it John Wick good? Certainly not, but it’s imaginative and entertaining.
Rounding out the cast is Joey King as The Prince, a young mercenary posing as a British schoolgirl, Andrew Koji as “The Father” and Hiroyuki Sanada as “The Elder” and they’re all very good in the movie as well. There are quite a few cameos as well in the movie, one of them, in particular, being quite memorable and amusing.
The film does lose some of its momentum towards the final act I found and some of the side plots I find to add little to the film. Much like a Tarantino film, Bullet Train has moments of non-linear storytelling where we get some backstory on the various characters aboard the train. While this often works, some of the characters ultimately don’t contribute much to the story apart from being an obstacle, so they feel bland and unimportant to the overall narrative, unlike Lemon and Tangerine. Likewise, the film sometimes tries to be smarter than it thinks it is. Despite the style, it is a pretty simple movie (nothing wrong with that) but the movie tries to make itself a bit more convoluted for the sake of it. I never got lost, but I saw the illusion.
In the end, if you want an action film that’s like Smokin’ Aces meets Snatch meets Kill Bill, this is it. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll have a blast with the movie and its bloody (and sometimes quite graphic) violence. If none of that works for you, then Bullet Train won’t be for you. I for one, thought it was an entertaining and funny ride overall.