Five assassins aboard a fast moving bullet train find out their missions have something in common.
‘Bullet Train’ is a film that on paper should be much more entertaining than it actually is. It has a cool premise centring on several assassins who find themselves on the same shinkansen (or bullet) train from Tokyo to Kyoto, all with slightly different missions. It’s directed by David Leitch who has had first hand involvement in the John Wick series as well as the retro Charlize Theron action thriller ‘Atomic Blonde’. It also has an international cast led by Brad Pitt at his laconic best. Why then, is it, that ‘Bullet Train’ feels a little too try hard and if anything, a little too smug and self satisfied?
Our main protagonist is ‘Ladybug’ (Pitt), an experienced assassin who is given a seemingly simple task by his handler to retrieve a briefcase on board the aforementioned train. Throughout the journey we, and Ladybug, are introduced to various other assassins who aren’t exactly on this train as tourists visiting Japan, and we start to learn that their presence on the same train is linked to a mysterious crime boss named ‘The White Death’ (yes, everyone has to have quirky names). I did think it was quite smart how the interconnected tasks and characters were weaved into one overall story, but the ultimate reveal came a little too late for it to really grab me. I enjoyed some of the performances, primarily Pitt and Hiroyuki Sanada, who is always good and who should be in much more. I was less impressed by Michael Shannon’s turn as a crime boss, which felt more like he was channelling ‘Borat’ than being menacing – he’s usually excellent as well.
For a movie that should be short and sharp, much like the trains its story is set on, it doesn’t half drag and there’s no reason for this to be over 2 hours long. Shaving 30 minutes and a couple of characters could have made this into a lean, slick thriller, instead of the overlong homage to better films it ultimately turns out to be. In many respects, it reminded me of a film from a few years ago called ‘Hotel Artemis’ that also had a cool premise and a retro feel, but ultimately wasn’t as fun as it promised to be. As an aside this was my first experience watching a movie in a ‘Screen X’ format, which is a type of cinema screen that is shaped like a square and uses the space to the left and right of the seats to show parts of the film as well. It’s meant to be more immersive but to be honest I thought it was quite gimmicky, certainly in the way it was used for ‘Bullet Train’.
Directed By: David Leitch
Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny, Logan Lerman, Zazie Beetz and Sandra Bullock