Bullet Train: Review
In his first job after a spiritual journey, the dopey snatch-and-grab contractor Ladybug receives a seemingly simple assignment – steal a briefcase on a speeding bullet train. Instead, Ladybug finds himself caught in a complex crime web featuring a rogue’s gallery of eccentric assassins in Bullet Train.
Boasting a star-studded ensemble and a high-wire premise, Bullet Train marks an intriguing step into the fast-and-furious mechanics of a Quentin Tarantino-esque romp for Atomic Blonde director David Leitch. The film is also an adaptation of a Kôtarô Isaka novel, a fact that has garnered pre-release controversy due to some questionable deviations from the source material.
The final product endures a train ride riddled with mixed qualities. It’s an unusual experience seeing a film that constantly modulates between exciting and exhausting its audience. Still, Bullet Train provides a breezy dose of summer movie entertainment throughout its turbulent inconsistencies.
Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz certainly go for broke here. Ladybug and his fortune-cookie philosophy, a pair of quick-witted British twins named Lemon and Tangerine, a father-son duo seeking revenge, a psychopathic teenager with a sinister agenda, and a murders row of assassins all inhabit the film’s busy train car setting with an assignment in mind. Amidst the constantly spinning plates, the duo extracts a comedic approach defined by life’s decisive dice rolls of fate and fortune.
Olkewicz’s characterization of colorfully cocksure killers breeds some humorous opportunities. The script’s comedic voice can sometimes try too hard to elicit laughter, but its brazen attitude and creative eccentricities help the film define an expressive personality.
Leitch’s presence behind the camera also makes its mark. The Atomic Blonde helmer possesses a keen eye for vibrant aesthetics. When Bullet Train fires on all cylinders, Leitch and Cinematographer Jonathan Sela paint the screen with dynamic colors and expressive framing choices that enrichen each close-quarters encounter. The bold visuals and light-hearted tone contrast nicely as Leitch crafts a film in the same vein of bullet-ridden romps like Smokin’ Aces and last year’s Copshop.
Bullet Train wouldn’t take off with the same momentum without its ensemble cast. Brad Pitt imbues ditsy SoCal energy into Ladybug and his humorously half-baked philosophies. After seeing Pitt in numerous Oscar staples, it’s a joy seeing the actor tap into his charisma as a contractor stumbling his way through his latest assignment. Scene-stealer Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson make for a compelling pair as the bantering Lemon and Tangerine, while Bad Bunny, Joey King, and Hiroyuki Sanada all infuse gravitas into their supporting roles.
For all its strengths, Bullet Train gets snagged in several speed bumps. The inherent busyness of Olkewicz’s screenplay becomes a double-edged sword as the material underbakes some of its essential elements. Where the Isaka novel reckoned with destiny and the sins of our past, Bullet Train reduces those meaningful ideas into bits for comedic pratfalls. I also wouldn’t say all of Olkewicz’s comedic flourishes click. When the film tries too hard to be eccentric, it can be cumbersome to endure.
Leitch’s direction features similar highs and lows. The John Wick co-director remains dedicated to kinetic aesthetics, but his lackluster control of atmosphere and material continues to show signs of needed improvement. Bullet Train often feels like a film pushing forward without a clear track, with Leitch allowing his stylish and occasionally random choices to consume the project without consideration for the narrative’s objectives.
There is a film buried beneath Bullet Train that boasts more conceptual and filmmaking promise than the final product on display. Even with that fact, I still found myself charmed by Bullet Train and its high-energy delivery. The movie provides a bombastic dose of summer entertainment for adult audiences.