As far as references throughout a movie go I think Thomas The Tank Engine, the much loved children’s British classic tv series once narrated by Sir Ringo Starr, is up there with one of the most obscure.
However, this is exactly what David Leitch (“Deadpool 2”, “Atomic Blonde”), has brought to us, from a script by Zak Olkewicz (“Fear Street: Part Two – 1978”), based on the book by Kôtarô Isaka, with Bullet Train.
Ladybug, Brad Pitt (“Ad Astra”, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”), is an assassin who mainly does snatch & grab work. He’s had a sabbatical recently and so, to ease him in, his handler Maria, Sandra Bullock (“Bird Box”, “Gravity”), sends him on a nice easy job.
All he has to do is pickup a briefcase that has a train sticker on the handle, that’s on a bullet train racing through Japan, and then get off the train at the next stop. Naturally, things don’t go this smoothly.
You see, Ladybug isn’t the only assassin on the train, also on board are: The Twins: Tangerine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Tenet”, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”), and Lemon, Brian Tyree Henry (“Eternals”, “Godzilla vs. Kong”), The Hornet, Zazie Beetz (“Joker”, “The Bad Guys”), and, later, Wolf, Bad Bunny.
Each one has their own assignment, an assignment that generally revolves around the briefcase that Ladybug is after. If that wasn’t enough there’s also Prince, Joey King (“The Kissing Booth 3”, “Welcome to the Blumhouse”), a young woman who has her own plans that involve using Kimura, Andrew Koji (“Snake Eyes”, “Peaky Blinders (TV)”), to help kill White Death, Michael Shannon (“Night’s End”, “Knives Out”).
White Death is the legendary feared leader of the largest Yakuza gang. The Twins are on the train to bring his son, and the briefcase full of ransom money, back from the kidnappers. When Ladybug takes the briefcase, it becomes all-out mayhem as everyone is after everyone else, is after the briefcase.
Prince wants it because it’s part of her plans, the Twins want it so they don’t wind up on the wrong side of White Death, White Death wants it because it’s his money, The Hornet wants it because she was told it was her payment for her job and Ladybug wants it because it’s his mission.
Whilst the others are your more traditional movie assassins, Ladybug is not. He’s been seeing a therapist and is on the phone, constantly, to Maria talking about how he’s a new man, not as quick to anger, it’s better to forgive. He also constantly attempts to use proverbs and phrases, though can never quite remember them correctly.
Lemon meanwhile delights in telling everyone that he’s learnt all he knows about human character from Thomas The Tank Engine, and categorises everyone according to who they would be in the children’s tv series. Anyone who is a ‘Diesel’, is trouble, plain and simple.
Ladybug is also convinced he has nothing but bad luck and, on the face of it, that appears to be the case as most of the assassins have some link to him at some point. However, you also notice that he’s not as unlucky as he’d believe, something The Elder, Hiroyuki Sanada (“Army of the Dead”, “Avengers: Endgame”), Kimura’s father, informs him later.
Providing you go in to Bullet Train aware of what you will be watching you are in for a treat. This isn’t some high-brow drama, it’s an action with plenty of comedy (and cameos) thrown in.
Pitt is good as the assassin attempting to re-evaluate where he is, what he’s done, attempting to reconcile the two. He has a deadpan humour and an almost hippy-esq vibe about him, meandering his way through incidents but getting away with them..
Leitch brings Olkewicz’s script alive. Each character has a backstory, which are told in cutaways, that also serve to not just let you know who they are, but often why they are there. There’s even a cutaway for the water bottle that features prominently on the train.
Yes it is silly at times and yes there’s a large element of suspending belief at times too. But that’s no different from a lot of action movies with ‘impossible’ stunts or luck for some, or all, of the characters. What’s different about Bullet Train is that it’s not just our protagonist who has his share of the luck, most do, and it’s all referenced by the characters themselves anyway which eases your watching, less eye-rolling.
For a fun, action-filled, well performed and funny movie, Bullet Train fits the brief. If you’re after something more thought provoking, more ‘thoughtful’, shall we say, then look elsewhere, it’s quite simple. Bullet Train does what it says on the tin.
6th August 2022
THE QUICK SELL
Five assassins aboard a fast moving bullet train find out their missions have something in common.