Friday, August 5, 2022

Bullet Train - Review

 Throughout his growing career so far, director David Leitch has taken some truly fine to average ideas at best on paper and made them into entertaining action flicks at the very least. That’s not to say they’re always “good” movies, but they’re at the very least exciting. Bullet Train is the latest attempt at capturing that energy, and for once its an idea that’s actually not too bad on paper, but less so in actual practice. 

Ladybug, played by Brad Pitt, is an unlucky assassin who's determined to do his job peacefully after one too many gigs has gone off the rails. Fate, however, may have other plans as his latest mission puts him on a collision course with lethal adversaries from around the globe -- all with connected yet conflicting objectives -- on the world's fastest train.

Bullet Train plays as a tribute to so many influences that the results are enough to make one dizzy. It’s a film out of time, a late 90s or early 2000s attempt at a crowd pleaser that leaves little in the way of character in exchange of blurry action. The issue arises when Leitch can’t balance the snarky comedy with the harder, brutal action that the film is striving for. With his past films, the action has been purely blockbuster formed, big and loud, but never grisly like he’s going for here. And while the reveals, cameos and general antics worked in other films he’s worked on, they don’t mesh here at all. 

The only reason any of this film works is due to the charisma of its cast. Sure, they don’t get much to work with outside of a baseline character trait, but they’re all so charming at what they do, it’s hard not to enjoy them at least a little. The perpetual bad luck and philosophy of Brad Pitt’s character mixed with his knack for dry humor make them obvious stand out, but the back and forth between Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry is also an excellent addition. 

But when all the characters are confined to a singular trait and a bit of charm, it’s hard to watch a film that’s filled with them. In many ways, it makes one daydream of a different film entirely, one that doesn’t cram them all in to a train, but one where we can actually see the back and forth of Taylor-Johnson and Henry play out throughout a mission or witness the crime-laden backstory of Hiroyuki Sanada and the oft-mentioned “White Death” that took over the Japanese underworld. There are so many different ways to take this film that the end result just feels even more like a wasted opportunity. 

Bullet Train isn’t awful, but its striking lack of direction and overabundance of visual noise make it a disappointment. There are beats where the action is sound, but there are far more where the over-editing and weird changes of speed and angle make it an insufferable knock off version of Zach Snyder (which is not great to begin with). The longer the train goes down the tracks, the harder it is to actually care about anything that’s happening, and you’ll find yourself waiting for it all to derail. 

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