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Bullet Train Review

August 5, 2022 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Bullet Train Image Credit: Sony Pictures
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Bullet Train Review  

Directed By: David Leitch
Written By: Zak Olkewicz; Based on the novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka
Runtime: 126 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated R for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality.

Brad Pitt – Ladybug
Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Tangerine
Brian Tyree Henry – Lemon
Hiroyuki Sanada – The Elder
Andrew Koji – Kimura
Joey King – The Prince
Logan Lerman – The Son
Bad Bunny – Wolf
Zazie Beetz – Hornet
Masi Oka – The Conductor
Karen Fukuhara – Kayda Izumi Concession Girl
Michael Shannon – White Death

Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde director David Leitch sets the world’s deadliest assassins against each other in a bloody, battle royal in the edgy, sometimes wacky and irreverent, action-comedy Bullet Train. Based on the book Maria Beetle, Leitch’s film adaptation features copious amounts of action, violence, blood, gore, and a wicked sense of humor that all coalesce to make for an entertaining romp.

At the center of Bullet Train is the down-on-his-luck hitman, codenamed Ladybug (Pitt). Ladybug is feeling conflicted about his work. He’s experienced and skilled at his job, but he also has a pacifistic streak, not wanting to bring harm to others, despite his sketchy line of work. While undergoing some life therapy, Ladybug is assigned a snatch and grab job by his handler Maria aboard a high-speed bullet train, departing from Tokyo with Kyoto as its last stop.

Ladybug is unaware that the briefcase he’s been assigned to grab holds the ransom money for a kidnapping job involving a criminal kingpin’s son (Lerman). The Son’s father is at the top of Japan’s criminal underworld and is a vicious, ruthless gangster nicknamed The White Death. The Son has been rescued and taken aboard the train by two other hitmen, an oddball duo named Lemon (Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Taylor-Johnson). The bad news for Lemon and Tangerine is that Ladybug snatches the briefcase they were supposed to deliver back to the White Death, along with the kingpin’s unharmed son. However, Lemon and Tangerine’s plans soon go awry, and they are left scrambling to unravel this comedy of errors.

Things grow more hectic as more shady individuals are on board the train. A young woman, calling herself The Prince (King), has lured a grieving father, Kimura (Koji), aboard the train after she attempted to murder Kimura’s son, putting the young boy in the hospital. The Prince gains Kimura’s compliance in an elaborate plot by holding Kimura’s son hostage. There is also the presence of another cartel hitman named Wolf (Bad Bunny) who boards the train on a quest for revenge, and a highly venomous snake stolen from the local zoo. Things only get crazier from there.

The energy of the source material for Bullet Train is infused throughout the film. The bullet train and unique cadre of super assassins provide the film with dynamic energy. The film is not a gritty action-thriller. Bullet Train is not striving for realism. At times, the tone is more like a live-action, wacky cartoon. Other times, it plays like an action-packed Japanese seinen manga.

After the bullet train leaves the station and progresses closer to Kyoto, the action begins to ramp up. It culminates in a balls-to-the-wall finale, where Leitch shows absolutely no sense of restraint. If there is one detriment to Bullet Train, since it tends to lean on the outrageous and over-the-top, the film leans on overly excessive action. The third act is where Bullet Train starts to become too drawn out for its own good. The plot falls short of collapsing under its own weight, but there are many plot threads at work that nearly get tangled.

Writer Zak Olkewicz provides a peppy, clever script that offers a fun puzzle-piece narrative. The film does not constantly talk down to the audience. Also, it does gleefully reward the audience for paying attention as the puzzle pieces come together. The clever script paired with the talented, game cast make for an entertaining, action-packed romp.

As a director who comes from a stuntman background, David Leitch has a very good eye for action and staging big action sequences, even if they can sometimes lean toward the excessive side. The well-staged action and dynamic characters make Bullet Train an enjoyable experience, especially since all the various assassins are so unique and identifiable from one another.

One plot issue concerns the premise of a Russian gangster working his way up the top of the Japanese Yakuza and then taking it over for himself in the form of The White Death. In the film’s defense, since the film takes place in an overly quirky, hyper-realized reality, that idea is somewhat more plausible.

The highly underrated Hiroyuki Sanada and Andrew Koji put in strong performances as The Elder and Kimura. They prove to have the more empathetic character arcs in the film, giving some emotional weight when chaos is bubbling throughout this story. Hopefully, Koji continues getting more work and better roles on the big screen after he was let down so badly by the role of Storm Shadow.

The rest of the cast are all entertaining and well cast in their roles, especially Pitt as the put upon, infinitely beleaguered Ladybug. Pitt’s charisma and personality work very well for the surprisingly laid back and chill jack of all trades. Johnson and Tyree Henry also work great together as the idiosyncratic hitmen duo, Lemon and Tangerine.

Bullet Train is a wild, irreverent, action-packed ride with impressive visuals and a high body count. This film is a fun night out and entertaining surprise for the late summer movie season.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Going in blind, Bullet Train is an unsuspecting, entertaining, and sometimes irreverent thrill ride. Director David Leitch and writer Zak Olkewicz walk a thin line and avoid what could have been a wildly convoluted thriller. Instead, the film rewards the audience by laying all sorts of clues so they can piece the puzzle together, which culminates in a blazing bonanza of action in the finale. Bullet Train makes for a fun night out at the movies that is worth seeing.