David Leitch is one of the most exciting directors working today. Between his uncredited work on John Wick, his work on Deadpool 2, and his work on the Fast and Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, he’s left quite the stamp on the modern action genre. I was curious to see what he’d do with a cast as huge and style as distinct as was advertised in the trailers for the Bullet Train movie starring Brad Pitt. Now, I think I can confidently say that Bullet Train is some of the most fun I’ve had in theaters this year.
[Warning: Spoilers from Bullet Train are below!]
Bullet Train is a worthy trip for the cast alone
By no means is Bullet Train perfect, as very few films are. But it’s a damn good time. What really makes the movie work is the outstanding cast. Brad Pitt is the funniest he’s been since 1993’s True Romance. Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor Johnson are standouts, and their connection leads to the most emotionally charged moments of the story. The cast is rounded out with powerhouses like Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Andrew Koji, Joey King, Zazie Beetz, and Bad Bunny.
The film is really anchored by the performances of Sanada, Shannon, and Koji. So it’s kind of a shame that two-thirds of them aren’t very much involved. Koji is the only of the three actually active in the story all the way throughout, and he excels with what he’s given. Driven by fear and anger and frustration, most of it communicated just by his physical performance. Koji continues to make an argument that he deserves to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
Misfiring characters and a crowded story
With a cast as long and star-studded as this one, some people are bound to catch the short end of the stick. Sadly it happens more than once, with more than one really exciting actor. I can appreciate that there is only so much time in a story, and you have to prioritize certain things. But the movie only makes half of a commitment, giving every single character a rich backstory, oftentimes teasing a deeper, more interesting story that we never get to explore.
— Bullet Train (@BulletTrain) July 27, 2022
The simultaneous over/underdevelopment of characters has residual side effects on the story as well. Jamming background stories and lore into moments where there isn’t really room for it, leads to the story feeling worn down, and losing an otherwise satisfying rhythm.
As an audience member, I start to forget things I really should remember because those other things are more important. But I’m too busy remembering how the character in only one scene had a tragic backstory that doesn’t really come into play. Maybe there’s a perfect 105-minute movie in here if you cut out a couple of unimportant characters, but then you also lose some fun elements.
Bullet Train brings both action and comedy
Ultimately that’s what this movie is all about: having a good time. The movie’s number 1 and number 2 priorities are good action sequences and good comedy. And Bullet Train excels in both.
It’s the most efficient action comedy I’ve seen since Everything Everywhere All At Once. It succeeds at exactly what it’s aiming to be, and there’s something commendable about that. Never reaching beyond itself, and never settling for less than it should be. It sits right in the most wonderful sweet spot.
The luck of the ladybug
At the heart of Bullet Train is a hilarious and touching story about luck and fate. Brad Pitt’s ironically named character Ladybug (typically a symbol for luck) has chronic bad luck. He stumbles through the movie accidentally causing deaths against his better intention. He’s constantly complaining to Sandra Bullock’s disembodied voice about just how frustrated he is with it. Hell, the fact that he’s on the train and in the story at all is a stroke of bad luck and circumstance.
But by the end, Sanada breathes new life into Pitt with his perception of what being a Ladybug means. He interjects that each of the spots on the ladybug’s back represents the “seven sorrows.” That the ladybug is not a symbol of luck, but the martyr for back luck. The job of a ladybug is to take in all of the bad luck to allow for good luck to be bestowed upon the people around them. It’s an enlightening “silver lining” outlook on life, and it really works. It’s a refreshing take that breathes life into the characters and (quite literally) brings light into the world of the story.
Straight man still works!
The straight man is an archetype that has been tired lately due to its overuse in modern blockbusters. Everyone in every movie (specifically the MCU) is constantly pointing out how absurd everything is and no one is ever just in the story. Everyone is aware of their situations, almost looking at the audience at points. But Ladybug is proof that this can actually still work if employed correctly. Everyone around him is completely in the heat of it, so it’s even more rewarding when he points out some of the irony or fate-driven nature of the situation.
No, Bullet Train isn’t perfect. There are some very clear and distinct areas that this movie could have improved. But, I find it hard to dislike a movie where Michael Shannon and Hiroyuki Sanada sword fight on a train in slow motion while a Japanese cover of “Holding Out For A Hero” plays in the background. It’s nonstop fun, and it’s not ashamed to be itself. Go see Bullet Train if you’re looking for a bonkers good time. You will not be let down.
My Bullet Train review rating: