The comedic skills of Brad Pitt should never be called into question. While it might be easy to write off his Oscar win for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a career award, it represented the full gamut of his skills. He not only showcases his dramatic skills and his physicality, but gets one of the outright funniest roles of his career. Given the subject matter and director, it already gets discounted for being one of the few comedic performances to win an Oscar in the last decade. For fans of his since his Snatch and Ocean’s Eleven days, his latest film will be an absolute treat. Leading an excellent ensemble in Bullet Train, Pitt gets to shine in every way, as he begins to transition into “The Dude” era of his career.
The new film from David Leitch follows Ladybug (Pitt), a smash and grab courier hired to nab a briefcase off a train. Quickly, he begins to realize there’s a much larger plot in the works. He steals the case from Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), “twins” hired to return the case to a crime lord known as The White Death. They also recovered the crime lord’s deadbeat son (Logan Lerman). Elsewhere on the train, The Prince (Joey King) lured Kimura (Andrew Koji) into a plan to kill The White Death. Soon, the ensemble begins to clash in unexpected and exciting ways, leading to numerous blood-soaked action setpieces.
Leitch continues his hot streak as one of the best active action directors. The man behind Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde, and John Wick thrives when showcasing hand-to-hand fight choreography. The train setting provides its own limitations to the fights, and still, Leitch finds creative ways to introduce new threats. While a MacGuffin-driven plot will frustrate some, there are excellent trap doors set up throughout the film, that often pay off when you least expect. This does lead to a few jokes that are maybe too cute for their own good as well.
Pitt’s absurdity feels like a modern-day Buster Keaton, combining laughs with his action showcase. He shines throughout the film, drawing from his Snatch, True Romance, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith characters. At the same time, there seems to be a lot of himself on-screen. It would not be absurd if we see him return to the Ladybug character, either through sequels or other films with similar tones. This could become a watershed moment for Pitt, as the Ladybug character bears a striking similarity to Jeff Bridges’ “The Dude,” both in its authenticity to the actor and its penchant for one-liners. Pitt could very well transform into a version of Ladybug in real life over the next few years.
The silliness does not end with Pitt, as Leitch calibrates the many absurdities of his world. Taylor-Johnson and Tyree Henry each showcase their own action chops but shine when emitting a Jasper & Horace energy. Tyree Henry gets the most laughs, considering his obsession with a certain train from pop culture. Taylor-Johnson once again proves he can match anyone on a physical level, and charms his way through most of the film. They also deliver most of the exposition and assist in selling world-building pop culture references (including a popular in-universe children’s show).
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film comes from Koji and Hiroyuki Sanada. While most of the other characters on screen seem to be in the game for money, these two carry a personal vendetta into the film. The extremely emotional beats of their stories juxtapose against the free-wheeling silliness of the MacGuffin fight happening on the train. Koji and Sanada demand attention given their layered and weathered performances, but they also feel like they’re in an entirely different movie.
The film then cycles through a runaway cavalcade of cameos and bit parts. Famous actors and actresses blitz across the screen, allowing the performers to take over the screen for three to five minutes. Many are simply here for comedic relief, which certainly keeps the audience intrigued. However, this does become somewhat monotonous at some point. This may also result in some upset fans, who might be there to catch a favorite actor of pop culture figure of theirs, only to realize they are barely in the film. The star power of Bullet Train may be off the charts, but that does not mean it uses every star well.
At the same time, there’s something pleasantly exciting about this kind of action ensemble. Films like Smokin’ Aces, Seven Psychopaths, and Guy Ritchie crime flicks have certainly struggled to be as entertaining as Bullet Train. Then again, most of those films are not as needlessly convoluted, as Bullet Train gets at times. The film is not confusing but simply hides its motives for too long while drawing out scenes a bit longer than necessary. Sometimes we get too hunkered down into the plot mechanics, and those exposition sequences drag.
If you’re in the mood for a fun shoot ’em up, it would be hard-pressed to find many more like Bullet Train. This is the definition of a popcorn film; as such, it should please audiences with its ADHD cutting and storytelling. There’s plenty to like about Bullet Train, and even if it does not strike up more significant conversations, this one is a fun turn-off-your-brain blockbuster.
Alan’s Rating 7/10
Bullet Train releases in theaters on August 5th, 2022. It is distributed by Columbia Pictures.
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