Bullet Train (film review)

Don’t you love these films that want you to know how smart they are by constantly telling you. I admit, Bullet Train (2022) is a handful, requiring you to pay attention because you get a shit-ton of character exposition in flashbacks and winks to the audience. Along the way, you piece together who these characters are and how the stories intersect.

Based on a popular Japanese book, the film is a blending of cultures in a comic book blender of noir, neon, Quentin Tarantino, Sam Peckinpah, Airplane! and Blade Runner (the original). The pace is fast and fights come at you like a Robin Williams monologue.

Brad Pitt stars as a snatch and grab specialist amongst a group of professional assassins, each with a colorful nickname and their own quirky personality. Seeing the preview, I thought this would be another of Pitt’s goofy character roles. He seems to alternate his serious and comedic roles, and it was time for something a lighter character. He doesn’t like guns and is in therapy to sort out his issues.

I won’t detail the story as it’s complicated and would ruin many surprises along the way. Essentially, the film takes place aboard a Japanese bullet train, where each story converges with the others. Pitt has the innocuous job of finding and retrieving a briefcase. Easy, peasy. Except that briefcase in involved with another story, which is connected to another story and so on.

Pitt talks to his handler throughout the film, who is voiced by Sandra Bullock. Other cameos include Channing Tatum and Ryan Reynolds. Pitt is billed as the star, but it’s really an international ensemble cast.

Bullet Train is directed by David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Hobbs & Shaw), action films with lots of stunts and CGI. As a visual film, Leitch and Cinematographer Jonathan Sela provide a neon, anime looking style. It’s colorful, fast-moving and electric. There is a vast amount of CGI, particularly at the end of the film. Leitch got his start as a stuntman and stunt coordinator, so the fight scenes are well-choreographed and filmed.

Bullet Train is what you call a modern neo-noir film. Mysterious, shady characters, dark intent and violence. This is a busy film of ambiguity and misdirection. The story is layered and keeps guessing and trying to figure out what you’ve seen. That’s very entertaining until you try to figure out the story – there is none. A bunch of episodes stitched together is not a film story. The characters want you to care about them, you get small slices of their backstories, but they remain just action figures. There’s no depth or heart.

I enjoy Brad Pitt films. He’s a risk-taker and pours himself into his films. He makes the most of an underwritten role. If you want to see a much better supporting role (which this one is), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is your ticket.

For an evening at home, with nothing more interesting to watch, this film will easily fill two hours. You’ll laugh, but you won’t remember this film for very long.

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