David Leitch is the director behind John Wick, Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde, whose knack for action thrillers continues with an adaptation of ‘Bullet Train’, a novel by Kotaro Isaka. A dark comedy, the story comes to centre on five assassins who discover their missions are linked while travelling on a bullet train.
Leitch steps into the vacuum left by Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, who have diverged from their stylish trademark action crime thrillers into new avenues. While Tarantino has slowed down with only two films in the last decade, showing another side with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it’s promising to see Kill Bill: Vol. 3 is in development.
Leitch has crafted a movie you could describe as Kill Bill: Vol. 1 meets Source Code. Tarantino’s eclectic almost comic book violent action and dark comedy is the currency of Bullet Train, which has a similar intensity to the impactful and relentless train thriller from Duncan Jones.
Featuring a stellar ensemble with cameos from several A-listers, Brad Pitt serves as the figurehead, supported by Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Koji and Bryan Tyree Henry. An affable and charming actor, who tends to work better as part of a team, his character’s pursuit of inner peace is at odds with some of his job requirements. Trying to sidestep confrontation in favour of having a chat, “negotiations” tend to fall apart.
“I was going for casually inconspicuous…”
It’s interesting to see Taylor-Johnson giving it a full go as a character plucked from a Guy Ritchie film. Koji serves as the straight man in an attempt to keep one foot on the ground. King keeps us guessing with her not-so-innocent turn as a doll-faced assassin while Henry adds a further degree of duality with his unassumingly sweet yet lethal instincts. Unfortunately, a few key performances come up short. Sandra Bullock’s short-lived role is almost literally phoned in apart from minimised screen time. It’s always a welcome sign to see Michael Shannon’s name attached to a film, but he struggles to find a comfortable stride with his accent in an underwhelming and substandard performance.
Creating a space for some outlandish comedic moments with each train carriage sporting a different theme, the pop culture overload finds the film veering from Thomas the Tank Engine to a Lord of War life-of-a-bullet style sequence featuring bottled water. Bullet Train’s cartoonish treatment and oddball characters keep the dumb fun relatively entertaining, even if the campy feel sacrifices a sense of realism.
Trying to figure out how each of their missions intersect makes this action comedy a bit of a puzzle, even if it’s playful spirit does make it seem disingenuous. The filmmakers do strike a good balance when it comes to representing the actual locomotion in contrast with the real world, using visual effects sparingly unlike Murder on the Orient Express.
Bullet Train’s lightweight videogame style storytelling relies too heavily on bravado and exhilarating action sequences, which try to outdo the previous one until you’re almost pleased it’s over. Often entertaining and rarely intolerable thanks to the charms of Pitt, King, Henry and Taylor-Johnson, Bullet Train does push the limits at 2 hours but will strike a chord with those who appreciate wacky action comedy.
The bottom line: Flashy