BULLET TRAIN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: David Leitch

Stars: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henrcarioy, Andrew Koji, Logan Lerman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martinez Ocasio, Zazie Beetz, Masi Oka, Karen Fukuhara, Sandra Bullock, Channing tatum, Ryan Reynolds.

Assassins on a train? 

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In neon lit Tokyo, a disparate group of characters board the overnight bullet train between Tokyo and Kyoto. Each of these characters has their own reason for being on the train, which are revealed in a series of colourful flashback sequences.  

Kimura (Andrew Koji, from Snake Eyes, etc) has boarded the train looking for the killer who threw his young son off the roof of a department store. While his son lies injured in a hospital bed, Kimura’s own father (Hiroyuki Sanada) has berated him for not looking out for his son so he has set out to seek revenge on a hitman known as The Prince. Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, from Nowhere Boy, etc) and his adopted brother lemon (Brian Tyree Henry, from Widows, etc) are a pair of assassins who are escorting the troubled drug addicted son (Logan Lerman) of a powerful Russian gangster to Kyoto. They are also guarding a briefcase that contains a million dollars. Lemon is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, and he gives people the name of one of Thomas’s friends, depending on the various character traits they exhibit. The pair also argue over the number of kills they have achieved – is it 16 or 17?  

The Prince (played by Joey King) looks like an innocent schoolgirl with her pink cardigan and pigtails, but she is a cunning and ruthless assassin. The Wolf (played by musician Benito A Martinez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny) is a crazed assassin who has boarded the train to hunt down the assassin who poisoned an entire wedding party. Also on board the train is a mysterious assassin known as “the Hornet”, who uses a deadly snake venom to poison her victims, causing them to bleed from the eyes and every other orifice before dying an agonising death.  

Also on the train is Ladybug (Brad Pitt), whose mission is to quickly find the briefcase and retrieve it and get off the train at the first stop. His nickname is a bit ironic because in Japan a ladybug is a sign of good luck, but he feels that he has been dogged by bad luck recently. This is his first assignment since returning from therapy following his previous job which didn’t end well. And he is only filling in as a last-minute replacement for agent Carver (a quick and sly cameo from Ryan Reynolds) who goes down with a stomach bug. But things quickly go awry as it seems that everyone on the train is after the briefcase for their own purposes. As the train races through the night these characters all confront one another, and it is a battle for survival. Luck also plays a part in determining who will survive. 

Bullet Train is based on the best-selling novel written by Japanese author Kotaro Isaka, and it has been adapted for the screen by Zac Olkewicz (Fear Street Part 2: 1978). But this is one of those rare film adaptations that is actually better than the source material – the novel was a bit of a slog to get through, but the film version brings the characters to life with clarity and places the emphasis on the action. And there is plenty of action and fisticuffs here, all staged with gusto by director David Leitch, a former stunt co-ordinator (and Pitt’s stunt double in many films) turned director, who has helmed films like John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, etc. He is no slouch when it comes to action and the fight choreography is superb.  

Leitch has used many of his regular collaborators to bring Bullet Train to the screen in a polished and slick package. David Scheunemann’s production design for the interiors of the train is quite striking, while cinematographer Jonathan Sela captures the glittering neon lit streets of Tokyo and the brightly lit interiors. Elisabet Ronaldsdottir’s editing brings a kinetic energy to the material. Leitch’s direction is certainly stylish, and he deftly laces the frantic action and violence with generous touches of black humour and an anime-like sensibility. With a script laden with plenty of clever pop cultural references, savvy dialogue, cartoon like violence and colourful characters, Bullet Train is the kind of action film that could have come from Tarantino or Guy Ritchie.  

The characters are brought to life by the ensemble cast. While in the novel the characters were Japanese, here they are played by mainly Caucasian actors with a smattering of Asian actors in the cast. Pitt turns on the charm as the affable and laid-back navel-gazing Ladybug who receives his instructions via a tiny earpiece from his largely unseen handler Maria (Sandra Bullock). He acquits himself well in the physically demanding role here. Pitt had a small role in the recent Channing Tatum/Sandra Bullock action comedy The Lost City, and the pair return the favour with small but amusing cameo appearances here. Taylor-Johnson and Tyree engage in lots of fast paced repartee, and they develop a wonderful chemistry and dynamic here. The cast also includes Michael Shannon in a small but important as the vicious sword wielding Yakuza overlord known as “the White Death” who has systematically killed his way to the top of the Japanese underworld and is somehow manipulating events to bring these assassins together.  

Bullet Train is a fast-paced action film that races along at a relentless pace, much like a crowd-pleasing rollercoaster, until it, literally, runs off the rails at the end. 

★★★☆

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