Updated: Aug 11, 2022
David Leitch has had a career in the action genre since his acting debut in 2001. Since then, he has been in and directed a variety of different films including Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 and his most recent venture, 2022’s Bullet Train. Adapted from the Japanese novel of the same name, Bullet Train follows multiple men aboard a shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train) each who are on a different, yet connected mission.
A grieving father (played by Andrew Koji) is devastated over his son’s condition after being pushed off a building. Discovering that a schoolgirl known as The Prince (played by Joey King) was responsible, he boards a bullet train to assassinate her. Meanwhile, two other hitmen, Tangerine and Lemon (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry) are en-route to deliver the son of the White Death (played by Logan Lerman) along with his ransom money of $10 million to his father (played by Michael Shannon). However, another assassin, Ladybug (played by Brad Pitt), is tasked with stealing the briefcase containing the ransom money by his handler, Maria Beetle (played by Sandra Bullock). As the train ride goes on, tensions escalate as the assassins all begin to fight one another over their intersected missions.
Frequently, action movies are sub-standard and often filled with formulaic tropes. And although Bullet Train’s plot is rather convoluted, its cinematography was the one element that caught my eye in the trailer. To me, the cinematography can be best described as combining cyberpunk elements with both traditional and kawaii Japanese elements. The shots involving the White Death felt like they were ripped straight from Ghost of Tsushima with its setting in traditional Japanese temples and households. Meanwhile, the shots of Tokyo in the opening sequence showed off Japan’s modern technological cityscape and had a very cyberpunk feel to them. During the train ride, we see more of the modern-day kawaii culture of Japan mostly with the mascots for their most popular anime. I really liked how the film went so far ahead of itself to show the different facets of Japanese culture just by using its cinematography alone.
To complement the cinematography, the acting was extremely entertaining. I especially liked Brad Pitt’s comedic timing and banter with both Sandra Bullock and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Pitt’s on screen chemistry with Bullock is so good that I kept referring to this film as The Lost City in Tokyo way too many times. But besides Pitt and Bullock, I really enjoyed Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry’s chemistry. The two really feel like brothers and I wished I saw more of their insane adventures as assassins. My favorite moment involving the brothers is probably the two recounting how many people they killed to rescue the White Death’s son. Not only is it funny and showcases their relationship, but it also breaks the fourth wall reminiscent of Deadpool. Additionally, I also liked Joey King as The Prince. This is the second film that I saw Joey King in since Ramona and Beezus. And I have to say, she surprised me with how well she can hold her own among the likes of Pitt and Taylor-Johnson.
But you didn’t come for just the cinematography and acting alone. No, you came for the action, and boy, does this movie deliver. To say that the action sequences are absolutely insane doesn’t do them justice. Not only does the movie make the most out of the confined space within the train for close quarters combat, but also utilizes fight scenes on moving vehicles and some really over-the-top Fast and Furious style set pieces. This should come off as no surprise as David Leitch has loads of experience in the action genre, creating exhilarating and jaw-dropping scenes whether it’s in hand to hand combat, car chases or fights on moving vehicles. One aspect of Leitch’s filmmaking that I really like is his use of slow motion. Leitch uses slow motion to not only emphasize certain scenes but also allows for audiences to catch their breath and truly absorb the madness unfolding in front of them before the scene snaps back into real time.
Despite the insane action, the plot does feel overly cluttered. I had a difficult time trying to keep up with everyone’s backstory and mission. Coming in at a bit over two hours, the film does feel a bit too long for my taste especially with the multitude of backstories and characters. Speaking of which, I do feel there were too many characters crammed in. I understand that the film was based off a book, but books have the luxury of telling multiple backstories through hundreds of pages, unlike a film. Some characters were just introduced and given a backstory despite only being in the film for a few minutes. Just imagine if every assassin in John Wick were given a back story just to be killed off in two minutes.
On a more serious note, Bullet Train has recently come under fire from critics due to accusations of white washing. Due to being adapted from a Japanese novel and taking place in Tokyo, many were expecting the majority of the cast to be Japanese, instead of starring a mostly white cast. While I am usually one of the first to call out white washing, I will say that the original novel doesn’t explicitly say that the characters are Japanese. Additionally, the author of the novel, Kotaro Isaka, had come forward to defend the film’s casting. However, I do want to say that the few Asian characters that are in the film fit into certain tropes. For example, the Elder is the stereotypical wise old Asian man who speaks in proverbs.
Although the film does suffer from a messy plot and too long of a runtime, I still think it’s worth checking out for the action, cinematography and humor alone. Bullet Train is more like a Fast and Furious movie than anything else, so you should treat it as such. This film grossed $62.5 million on a budget of around $90 million, a bit of an underperformance compared to other action films. No doubt the casting controversy hurt the film’s performance. This is sad as I do think it is an entertaining film and should be given a chance. All-in-all, I recommend you go check out Bullet Train and brace yourself for a fun, chaotic ride through The Land of the Rising Sun.