Bullet Train Review – Brad Pitt Braves Public Transport in Lengthy Actioner

The latest frenzied actioner from director David Leitch – Bullet Train (adapted from 2010 novel MariaBeetle) – is an inoffensive yet lengthy sketch of an Edgar Wright meets Tarantino thriller. 

Brad Pitt stars as “Ladybug”, a weathered-from-the-job assassin who sings to a tune of peaceful conflict resolution. This is further evoked through his ‘gone fishing’ inspired get-up, showcasing shampoo ad-ready shoulder-length hair and a bucket-hat to boot. Tasked to acquire a mysterious briefcase, its contents containing the ransom of a wealthy crime lord’s son, the self-described “unlucky” Ladybug boards an overnight train from Tokyo to Kyoto.

It is within the belly of the beast where Ladybug encounters a hotbed of deadly assailants, each possessing their own distinct aesthetics and fighting styles. (Their animated demeanours and non-discreet presentations make them prime candidates for video game characters.) While tussles and character reveals ensue over the alluring suitcase, this train leads to one destination: an all-out battle royale against the intimidating crime boss, the White Death.

The eccentric and bright lights synonymous with Japan (or perhaps just Western filmmakers) represent much of the film’s visual language, with long-time Leitch cinematographer Jonathan Sela offering up some sharp set-pieces. The film finds buzzing energy in Dominic Lewis’ score, with the notable stand-out piece occurring in one tense reveal feeling straight out of a Mario Kart course. Restricting fights to the confines of a train offers some nifty knuckle-to-knuckle action sequences. These fast-moving brawls marinate in adrenalinic energy; an unsurprising feat given Leitch’s involvement in John Wick (2014–) and Nobody (2021).

The film is relentless in its joke-slinging, often wringing out lacklustre material to the point of cramping. This is most evident in Brian Tyree Henry’s character Lemon, who views other passengers in terms of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ characters. It is funny at first but quickly loses steam after the third and fourth reprise (which can also be said about how the film serves up cameos). It is this taxing humour – an issue Leitch also faced in 2018’s Deadpool 2 – that undermines the moments set up as heartfelt, impacting the stories of ‘The Prince’ (Joey King), ‘The Father’ (Andrew Koji) and brothers Lemon and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

The success of Deadpool (2014) has seen the rise of the self-aware and crude actioner. While Bullet Train overindulges in this winky character interplay, it scrapes by off the back of a stacked cast and arresting production elements.

Director: David Leitch

Cast: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Brian Tyree Henry

Writer: Zak Olkewicz, (based on the book Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka)

Hagan Osborne

Trying to remember they are just movies. Part of AFCA and seen on Rotten Tomatoes and Wikipedia. Lover of pop music and The Brady Bunch Movie(s). Sam Neill once stood aside to let me pass him. Living on Stolen Land.

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