Bullet Train is a surprisingly entertaining ride, offering heavy-duty adrenaline and Brad Pitt in his element.
Directed by: David Leitch
Tagline: The end of the line is just the beginning.
father watches his son in a hospital on life support. He still hasn’t woken up. And he feels somewhat responsible, for a father’s job, in his opinion, is to take care of his family. He is having this conversation with another man about whom we know very little. There is a level of disdain the older man, the father, has for the young man.
Japanese culture is embedded in the film in subliminal fashion and overtly as names of the characters (who appear in the film) are presented in English and Japanese.
Pitt, who is playing a central role in the film, is walking through the streets of Tokyo with a sense of wonder. Well, who wouldn’t?
He is accepting a job over the phone and while he tells the person how he feels like a new person, it turns out his “operational name” is Ladybug. This is where realization strikes that he isn’t a tourist at all but gunning for a new (and deadly) job after messing up a few times as an assassin. He literally walks us through those operational failures with flashbacks.
Okay, so he isn’t the best operative.
Talking to a woman (Sandra Bullock) on the phone, Maria, who gives him his new assignment, their conversation is engaging but just as hilarious. Their banter is nothing like a voice on the phone including Mission: Impossible series, James Bond series, or even Jason Bourne franchise. Ladybug is given instructions as he boards a train.
Another man, whom we saw in the beginning of the film, also boards the train. While Ladybug does have a mission, he feels less menacing than the other man, whose intentions are unclear, and his disposition feels dangerous.
As the camera pans to other characters, we find Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Lemon and Tangerine, respectively. Their conversation, at the start, is benign. The endearing Masi Oka (Heroes, Hawaii Five-0) appears as a conductor.
The film does introduce most characters, each aboard this train, the fastest in the world, in a nonchalant manner, even though nearly all of them have a mission that needs to be carried out on the train.
Are they looking to commit murder, take homicidal revenge by any means necessary, or just snatch and grab something key to their mission is what the narrative builds upon as the film goes on. For instance, when a shadowy figure points a gun on a seat number and finds a young girl instead, he quickly resets his goal and has no intention of shooting her. But that doesn’t stop her from using a taser, which makes him fall to the floor and groan weakly.
To ponder on how each character’s arc is developed and how missions fare is to give away the surprise that is this film.
What these assassins share, though, is deadpan humour. It is almost comical. In temperament, Bullet Train is more like Deadpool and less like Unstoppable, Murder on a Train or The Taking of Pelham 123.
Though it is a ride where you don’t know what will happen next and isn’t as predictable as certain other films, Bullet Train’s major drawback is primarily its length. With a running time of over two hours, it needed serious editing.
The diverse cast works in the film’s favour. Inclusive by design or because it is based in Tokyo is a question without an answer, but this sort of casting takes the film a notch higher and is something other films should follow.
In the end, it must be said that Netflix is home to some of the best Brad Pitt films. This means that you can watch them as a reference point to see where Brad stands as an actor now, before embarking on the mission to watch Bullet Train.
It will be an apposite and insightful exercise because even if you watch one or two other Pitt films, it will quickly become obvious that no matter what material Pitt has to work with, he will still give a strong performance as an actor.
Add a strong ensemble cast, and the result is decent if not genius. And no, this isn’t a Benjamin Button, or a Fight Club, but Bullet Train is a non-stop ride with different characters carrying distinct missions, unbeknownst to others, in amusing fashion. Is the film overambitious? Yes, but watch it for its comedic scenes, action, inclusivity, and Brad Pitt, who delivers a top-grade performance.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection