Recently, Brad Pitt said in an interview that he’s on the last leg of his career and that retirement is looming for the 58-year-old actor. He later clarified he’s not going anywhere quite just yet, but the sheer acknowledgement that he’s not young anymore brought on a morbid sense of mortality.
It’s a good thing Pitt has confirmed that he’ll keep on working because Bullet Train, which opens in cinemas today, is one of his funniest, most relaxed performances in a long while. Here, Pitt gets to do a bit of everything; he cracks plenty of jokes, performs exemplary fight sequences and gets to craft a great character. It’s a shame Bullet Train is otherwise let down by uneven plotting and really terrible CGI.
Pitt is Ladybug, a very unlucky, but highly skilled assassin with a distaste for guns and violence in general. He’s taking over from another assassin in a mission to simply grab a briefcase on board a bullet train and then get off. Easy peasy, right? Think again, as there are several deadly individuals on board the same train and all of them want the briefcase.
What follows is a relatively tight and action-packed two hours. David Leitch’s Bullet Train is ridiculously entertaining throughout and the story flows nicely, even if the plotting is needlessly heavy-handed. The script penned by Zak Olkewicz, based on Kôtarô Isaka’s novel, is full of smart quips, but none of the film’s one-liners are particularly memorable, perhaps because there is an over-abundance of them.
The characters are also forced to explain the plot at all times. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet had the same issue, but that film actually needed explaining, whereas Bullet Train thinks it’s more clever and complicated than it actually is. It’s a good thing Leitch has a particularly great cast of reliable, charismatic actors.
While it’s undeniably Pitt’s show, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry shine as the twins who are on a mission to save the son of a Russian leader of a crime organisation. While their accents are hit and miss, their chemistry is not.
Joey King is having the time of her life playing a killer masquerading as a school girl. Her character is the most shallow in the script, but King makes her fun and that alone just about carries the character. Michael Shannon is criminally underused, but oh, so fun as the lethal crime boss.
Some have already noted that Bullet Train problematically takes a Japanese novel, adapts it to more Western tastes while keeping the Japanese setting. It’s dangerously close to, if not actually, white-washing and it makes Bullet Train feel awkward and uncomfortable. Why not simply move the action to the US?
We already knew Leitch is skilled at directing action and all of Bullet Train’s frequent fight sequences are dynamic and very violent. There’s plenty of fake blood and Leitch and cinematographer Jonathan Sela find new angles from which to film the sequences innovatively in the tight corridors of the train.
Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir edits the film rather manically, but her editing also emphasises the comedic beats of the script and the actors’ timing. She also knows when not to cut, simply letting the camera observe Pitt’s exasperated face.
The film’s soundtrack is also full of certified bangers. Geek Music’s new version of the classic Stayin’ Alive is a fun one and Leitch skilfully marries the stylish visuals to such an energetic, eclectic soundtrack.
But in no way is Bullet Train perfect. It’s a here-and-now kind of film, one to be enjoyed in the moment but as soon as the credits start rolling, you’re free to forget everything you saw. Give it a week and Bullet Train will have faded from your memory entirely.
The film also features some shocking CGI. The ending in particular is simply ugly to look at which is in such a contrast to the otherwise very carefully crafted, considered visual look of the film. It’s a shame that these things bring the film down so much, because Bullet Train is very enjoyable but ultimately ends up being a bit of a disappointment.
Bullet Train is in cinemas August 3.