Bullet Train is the movie equivalent of chugging a six pack of Red Bull on an empty stomach. As the trailers advertised, it is one wild-ass ride aboard the world’s fastest train.
The clips hinted that there was fast paced action at high speed. There was a mysterious metal briefcase, right out of Pulp Fiction (1994). And there was Brad Pitt in all his handsome, greasy-haired glory playing the kind of character he does best. And, there were a ton of flashy action sequences.
It looked to be this summer’s John Wick (2014) or Atomic Blonde (2017 heavy on non-stop fight scenes and harrowing chases and light on any real story or plot, not that there is anything wrong with that.
Sometimes, we just like to be entertained, even if it means shutting our brain’s higher functions down for two solid hours.
To its credit, Bullet Train lives up to all the hype. It’s a non-stop thrill ride, from start to finish, but also to its credit, it is much, much more than that. What’s really impressive about Bullet Train is the writing, which is often the weakest element in the action flick genre.
Serve up enough stunts and special effects and nobody will notice that there isn’t much of a story. Hollywood has seemingly been living by this unspoken rule for decades.
So, it’s refreshing when screenwriters create a plot with multiple characters, complex story lines and frequent flashbacks that all fit together like the inner workings of a fine Swiss watch. The bursting energy in Bullet Train isn’t purely kinetic, it also derives from nonstop surprises and revelations that provide a roller coaster ride of their own.
It is a movie very reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction which is a modern-day masterpiece of filmmaking. In my estimation, it’s his best movie, hands down. And there aren’t a lot of movies like it. Not even the Tarantino movies that followed.
Bullet Train manages to capture the spirit of Pulp Fiction without blatantly ripping it off.
It’s bloody and brutal and remarkably funny on its own dark, grim terms. Early on, it establishes that this is a bizarre, criminal world in which all bets are off, and you can never predict what will happen next.
At the heart of it is what Alfred Hitchcock called the “MacGuffin,” something that everyone is after. In this instance it’s that staple of crime thrillers, a metal briefcase full of money.
It’s what Brad Pitt’s character Ladybug is dispatched to steal at the request of his mysterious boss played by Sandra Bullock. In true Charley’s Angels style, she is only a voice on the other end of a telephone for much of the movie, calmly guiding and instructing Ladybug at every turn.
There are, of course a small army of terrifying murderers, assassins and lunatics including two twin killers known as Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) whose world view is shaped by Thomas the Train. Joey King plays Prince, a mysterious young woman with her own axe to grind. And did I mention the inclusion of a venomous viper who could have earned the movie the title Snake on a Train? No spoilers here.
Make no mistake, Bullet Train wastes no time making it clear that gory, visceral violence is part of the mix. But it manages to balance all the blood and guts with a level of grim comedy that works. It’s hard to imagine that a movie this violent could also be so funny. It’s a real tightrope walk.
Much credit here goes to screenwriter Zak Olkewicz and director David Leitch, whose previous work includes the aforementioned John Wick (2014) which he produced, as well as Atomic Blonde (2017), Deadpool 2 (2018) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) which he directed. It’s a body of impressive work that leads directly to Bullet Train.
Bullet Train was a pleasant surprise. It exceeded my expectations and was more of a story and more of a movie than the trailers alluded to.
In addition to slick style, it has real substance.
Buckle your seatbelts. Bullet Train is one, supercharged, summer ride
Bullet Train is in theaters now.