I’m shocked to report that a film I anticipated actually delivered on the hype. Bullet Train, in fact, exceeded my expectations, and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you. Read on for those…
Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is an assassin on a simple mission: steal a briefcase from a Bullet Train. All’s well and good until he discovers that other contractors seek the same briefcase, and will kill for it. Ladybug must navigate a complex array of freelancers, mobsters, and assassins in his quest to make it off this train alive…
I challenge you to find many better (widely distributed) films this year! Bullet Train will almost assuredly make my yearly top 10 list– and high up at that. It’s got everything I could have wanted: likeable characters, tight plot, compelling story, kickass action, and didn’t overstay its welcome!
Bullet Train is a lot like Top Gun: Maverick in that regard: it keeps things simple yet effective. Just don’t mistake simple for dumb, because that would fail to credit BT for its excellent writing.
I was engaged with Bullet Train from frame one till its credits rolled (NOTE: stick around a few minutes through the credits for one more scene). BT’s script proved efficient with its well-blended exposition, set-ups, pay-offs, and character arcs.
Bullet Train is way more twisty than I expected! I could never predict exactly where it would go because it made too many surprising choices. All the twists made sense, didn’t need to be overly explained, and satisfied me.
The behind-the-scenes plot of this movie leaves me with a lot of information to unpack. A lot more was happening in Bullet Train than we’re led to believe at the start. It’s thankfully simple enough to follow, but a lot of info to track. You’ve got to pay attention or you might miss some important pieces of information (but you’ll NEVER forget that Lemon knows how to “read people”, because he reminds everyone at every opportunity).
I appreciated the way flashbacks were used to “cheat” the story’s limitations. There’s not a lot of action in the first act of the film, so the flashbacks serve a dual function: add necessary context for characters’ backstories and tide us over with some awesomeness so that we don’t get bored (not that anything was boring). They didn’t forced or ruin my investment in the “current” storyline. Alright… the one with the backstory for a water-bottle was a little much, but it was funny.
Bullet Train featured fantastic uses of foreshadowing. I was caught by surprise multiple times with call-backs to lines which–I believed at the time– were throw-away exposition or random comments. I didn’t give the writers enough credit because most movies suck. But I’m pleased to see Screenwriting craft still exists in Hollywood.
Bullet Train is occasionally quirky in its execution, with an off-kilter feeling throughout much of its runtime. I loved its tone! I’d say it was somewhere between melodrama, deadpan wit, and Marvel-style quippiness. It’s certainly an uncommon balance.
But it was a lot funnier than I expected! I believe everyone got at least one line which made me chuckle. Yet nobody came across as an outright joke. I managed to take the characters seriously while laughing with or at them. Most of the jokes aren’t laugh-out-loud funny to me, but I probably had a grin on my face for most of the film.
Brad Pitt is a charming screen presence for whom I easily root. His turn as Ladybug proved engaging as per his usual. I love how most of his backstory is merely implied: that he used to be this cynical, unlucky hard-ass, but wants to better himself through therapy and positive thinking. It’s a great set-up for an assassin-type character– one more comic than usual, without delving into outright stupidity (as I alluded to above).
Andrew Koji excels in his role as a world-weary man who wishes to enact revenge, then return to his son. I’m not disappointed with how his story turned out, by any means. But he was woefully underused.
Joey King’s “Prince” proved a mixed bag for me. She’s a smug and meddlesome sociopath whom I grew to despise before I learned more about her. I admittedly sympathized with King’s character once I finally understood her motivation. But Bullet Train doesn’t bother to explain her backstory till WAY later in the movie. I didn’t like “Prince”, per se, but she entertained me and created necessary tension.
Lemon and Tangerine (Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), however, were *Chef’s kiss*. I freaking loved these two! Their quickly-established dynamic was what convinced me Bullet Train would be something special. I knew Brad Pitt was supposed to be the lead, but I immediately rooted for these guys as well!
Come to think of it– I cheered for basically everyone by the end of Bullet Train. They’re all kinda bad people, but I liked their goals and/ or personalities enough that I couldn’t decide whom I wished to come out ahead. I loved and hated every time someone gained a victory at the expense of someone else. And I see that reaction as a huge marker of Bullet Train‘s quality!
This film features excellent choreography in its action scenes. I might even call the choreography exceptional, but I don’t think it is. What stands out is the way its shot: where the actions flow in satisfying ways and I can actually tell what I’m watching.
Jonathan Sela’s cinematography proved immersive and pleasing. Most of this film is set in one location. Sela managed to make each car of the train feel distinctive in personality– each stop as well. His use of colours especially impacted the mood of each scene and place.
Just a few critiques now: Bullet Train is a bit weirdly paced. It’s a little over two hours but felt a lot longer. Maybe that’s just because it’s a more slow-burn plot and I was impatient? Might be. But I was invested the whole time, in any case.
Another critique: the effects and action looked generally awesome… until the end. There’s a CGI-heavy sequence in the third act which felt at odds with everything which came before it. Things got too unbelievably crazy for my suspension of disbelief, and the effects didn’t convince me.
Bullet Train is like a more violent Agatha Christie novel. It’s decently original, well-made, and a great time at the movies. Sometimes that’s good enough.
I’ll go far as to say Bullet Train is a Must See.
FOR MY SPOILER-FILLED THOUGHTS ON BULLET TRAIN, CHECK OUT THIS EPISODE OF CLOSE UP:
What’s Brad Pitt’s best action role? What did you think of Bullet Train? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,