'Bullet Train' Review: Please, Check If Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Others Have Their Tickets
Ease your mind, bleed from your eyes, take a sip of your coffee, follow my voice and tell me what objects you can find and where you can find them in a movie called Bullet Train. Okay, now that we're halfway there—destination is unclear, though—we can talk about the new action comedy in question, which is directed by David Leitch and stars Brad Pitt. In neon-lit Tokyo, we meet an assassin nicknamed Ladybug (Pitt), who boards a high-speed train to Kyoto. He's been assigned by a handler to steal a briefcase which is in possession of two British assassins, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry). As the briefcase is changing hands, they suspect that they are there for a bigger purpose which involves a retired Japanese assassin The Elder (Sanada Hiroyuki), schoolgirl Prince (Joey King) and criminal leader White Death (Michael Shannon).
Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz quickly set up Ladybug's mission and players connected to it, often with plenty of banter and flashy character titles, presumably inspired by Japanese video games. When we're sitting comfortably in the train, Leitch and his stunt team begin to tickle your senses with several action scenes where fists, legs, trays, water bottles and bullets are all flying around. Those sequences certainly aren't the problem as they are often handsomely shot by DoP Jonathan Sela and sharply edited by Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir.
There are, however, two other aspects that make both the action and other storytelling as exciting as possible. The film's sound editing works overtime to make moments pop during the two-hour runtime with the train itself, off-screen action and when Leitch takes detours elsewhere. Elizabeth Keenan's decor is also vital in similar fashion, as every prop and set dressing is useful for the story.
It is as a whole package where Bullet Train becomes a wreck, perhaps best displayed by the truly unfunny nature of Olkewicz's script. Humour thrives on setup, punchline and reaction but in this film, everything is written and delivered like a punchline just with different styles (Pitt gets the dryness, Taylor-Johnson is shouty Englishman, Henry has one pop culture reference in Thomas the Tank Engine), and punchlines on their own wear you out in under five minutes. Also, when scripts and direction are reliant on that, it massively takes away from the performances, such is the case with blank-faced King or completely wasted Sanada. Finally the movie goes off the rails—figuratively or literally, that's for you to see—with its last 15 minutes that isn't even a punchline, it's just a bunch of noise that has nothing to do with anything that came before.
Smileys: Set decoration, sound editing
Frowneys: Humour, ending, Joey King
Dother-ducking snake on the dother-ducking train.