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A Bullet Train Review

Antonio Arant

What do citrus fruits, a bottle of Fiji water, a Hello Kitty rip off, and fate all have to do with one another? They are all seemingly unrelated elements that tie together the new action/comedy Bullet Train.

The film follows an assassin codenamed Ladybug (played by Brad Pitt) as he performs an assignment of picking up a suitcase on a bullet train ride in Japan. The simple job goes sideways as Ladybug’s path gets intertwined with two other contract killers, codenamed Tangerine and Lemon (played by Aaron Taylor Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry, respectively) who were hired to guard the case. 

Bullet Train is a film made in the mold of Pulp Fiction. The scaffolding of snappy dialogue paired with quirky characters that have intersecting plotlines is played to perfection. Every character has a set of instantly distinguishable characteristics. Ladybug is a new adopter of the practice of Zen, and spends the majority of the film lamenting his career choices. Tangerine is a well-put together British gentleman. Lemon is a childish giant, who sees all social relations through the lens of Thomas the Tank Engine. The film even uses the Tarantino trademark of using old pop songs as a soundtrack, but with a twist. Japanese-language music makes up the majority of the soundtrack, with a few recognizable foreign language covers of American rock thrown in for good measure. The film is a fusion of American and Japanese cinematic sensibilities.   

Of course, this film would not be totally Tarantinesque without extreme violence. The cast of motley characters are hitmen (with one hitwoman), so somebody has to die. Scene to scene, there are deaths that are tragic, thrilling, and sometimes laughable; but the throughline is that they all are incredibly graphic. If you can’t handle extreme gore, stay away from this film. 

As the film starts to move along, it becomes, in a sense, silly. The plot is riddled with conveniences that simply wouldn’t happen in real life. Now, this would be an issue if the film tried to be a serious, dramatic piece of cinema. Instead, an extra layer of clever irony is added on. The film is self-aware of its absurdity. Many scenes are devoted to the discussion of fate. To the characters, the reason ridiculous, barely-survivable, events happen over and over again is due to fate. The script gives the audience a wink and a nod. 

The script is a masterclass in setup and payoff. Nearly every line of dialogue, every event, no matter how seemingly insignificant, will have bearing on a future scene. So, make sure to keep your eyes and ears peeled at all times.

Action movies are not known for their actors’ performances, and Bullet Train is no different. Nobody is trying to win an Oscar here, but the entire cast is having loads of fun. This felicity really shows, and adds to the pleasantly goofy tone.

The film is directed by David Leitch. He is a Hollywood action film veteran with credits on just about every major action film from the early 2000’s to the present day (just take a casual glance at his IMDB page). Leitch started out as Brad Pitt’s stunt double in the early 00’s. His career took up from there, rising up to stunt coordinator; and now directing major motion pictures. He has an uncredited director’s work on the first John Wick film. Leitch’s action work is of the highest and most professional caliber. 

My only complaint, albeit minor, is that the CGI nearing the end is a little lackluster. The all-digital environments are quite noticeable. The scene only lasts for about a minute, and is a tiny loosening on an otherwise tight thriller. 

So, if you are looking for an irreverent way to spend a couple of hours, take a ride on the world’s fastest train. Just make sure to mind the blood.

                                                                                                                                                                                        -Antonio Arant

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