Directed by: David Leitch
Premise: An assassin (Brad Pitt) who has been down on his luck agrees to steal a briefcase aboard a high-speed train. He discovers other assassins are also aboard the train working overlapping jobs.
What Works: The action genre is going through a renaissance that has emphasized elaborate stunt work and practical effects as seen in the Raid films, the John Wick series, and Atomic Blonde. As impressive as those films have been, they have also frequently been humorless and one note. Bullet Train also has impressive stunt choreography but it is a much lighter film that takes time to develop its characters. The picture focuses on an assassin codenamed Ladybug who is hired at the last minute to snag a suitcase full of money. Ladybug is played by Brad Pitt, who is underappreciated as a comedic actor. Bullet Train allows Pitt to show his comic abilities and he’s willing to make himself the butt of the joke. The rest of the cast are full of distinct characters. Everyone is given a very specific look in their costuming and makeup and their dialogue is written in a way that conveys character. The whole cast do an excellent job giving these people individual identities. The action sequences combine the ferocity of contemporary fight scenes with the sensibilities of physical comedy. The action set pieces balance the humor with the credibility of the violence. The speed, colorful characters, and combination of wit and violent action makes Bullet Train feel like a throwback to the action movies produced in the 2000s like Smokin’ Aces and Lucky Number Slevin but in many respects this a better movie than a lot of those pictures. The characters are eccentric but they maintain human dimensions and the filmmakers get us to care about their survival.
What Doesn’t: The plotting of Bullet Train is too complex for its own good. The movie frequently stops for flashback sequences that fill in exposition or dramatize a character’s backstory. This is done throughout the movie, even as it nears the climax, and these sequences slow the movie down at critical points, sometimes to give us backstory for characters who don’t really need it. Bullet Train is also overstuffed with characters. The filmmakers have trouble balancing everyone’s screen time especially a young female assassin played by Joey King. She disappears from the action for a critical stretch of time and the resolution of her story isn’t very satisfying.
Bottom Line: Bullet Train is a fun action picture. It has a few too many characters and a little too much plot getting in the way of the story but Bullet Train’s mix of laughs and action is sufficiently entertaining.
Episode: #913 (August 14, 2022)