BULLET TRAIN gets 4.5/10 At risk of derailment

Directed by David Leitch

Starring Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Shannon


Bullet Train has finally come to cinemas after three initial delays for its 2022 release. The adaptation of Japanese mystery writer, Kōtarō Isaka, is highly stylised and reflective of the neon fantasy that has seeped its way into every production in the last five years – here’s looking at you, Netflix Originals.

The movie follows Ladybug (Brad Pitt), a trained killer who wants to give up the life of murder for a more peaceful resolution, until his handler Maria brings him back in for a small job – secure a briefcase of money on a train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Once on board the train, it becomes a murder by numbers, as the film ramps up to a ten as soon as it leaves the station – with very few breaks along the way.

The briefcase is the prize of many assassins that get on, and off, the bullet train throughout the 126 (drawn out) minutes of the movie. With interesting framing and cinematography, moments stand out as being connective strands that tie each assassin together in a multi-layered web of storylines. This skill is a high point for the film, as it can be difficult to keep people across multiple characters and storylines, whilst maintaining a rhythm and speed to an action thriller.

Bullet Train has many cross connections in style with Atomic Blonde, John Wick saga; even some anime and video game flare. But there are moments of fourth wall breakage that happen once, and not again, and the repetitive punch lines of jokes that … were not working to begin with but feels like the writer was especially keen for them to land – like a comedian during a failing set, in the hopes they don’t get boo’d off the stage.

The movie is fun, colourful, and engaging – until it isn’t. The first 25 minutes are strong, and present great lead into new characters. But in juxtaposition, the last 30-45 minutes are lazy exposition, monologuing, and a sudden reveal of the Big Bad, that results in a very anticlimactic action sequence that – after the fifty other instances of gory and average fight choreography before – doesn’t resolve anything, answer questions, or leave the audience satisfied.

The film, and rightfully so, has received some backlash for its apparent whitewashing of the book’s original content. Though it would have still held weight if the filmmakers had set the adaptation in America, and continuing to utilise well known faces for its marketability, this claim was further reinforced with Asian individuals used in the background of scenes and never in major roles.

Towards the end of the film, within the last 30-45 minutes, further cameos are unveiled in what felt like aggressively stuffing a tired chicken before a holiday meal to impress the family – unprepared, unrequired pantomimes that suggested the production needed to “hype” the star quality than allow for the merits of the original source material.

Overall, if the sole intention was to produce a colourful movie of high action nothingness for the “everyman” to watch on a Friday night – they hit their mark. Is it something you should pay to watch, before it becomes free on a streaming service? Probably not. Bullet Train turns a short journey into an endless meandering of exposition and monologuing, that hardly ever pays off with any destination. It continued to load the barrel, and ultimately backfired.


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