Judging what this film is aiming to be based on its trailer is perhaps the most challenging part of Bullet Train; in truth, at its most rudimentary elements, this is no more of a thinking man’s movie than Hobbs & Shaw (2019) or The Gray Man (2022). However, its trailer gives off enough distinct style and manic energy that it’s difficult to just write it off as just another manufactured action flick – in appearance, it does seem to be more than that, there were clearly major efforts put into its aesthetic and frantic energy. But even with that in tow, a cautious part of you can’t quite pinpoint the vibe it’s aiming for and thus, can’t quite trust this film. Well, if you had that instinct, like I myself did, then be prepared to have that confirmed. Bullet Train is a wild ride that comes bitingly close to derailing, but manages, for the most part, to reach its station. So if you’re in the market for a little bit of fast fun, grab a ticket, because it really is full-steam ahead with this speedy flick.
In my view, Bullet Train was an odd pitch from the get-go; don’t get me wrong, Brad Pitt is no stranger to starring in uncharacteristic roles that seem to come out of left field – so that didn’t shock me, rather, it’s really the other cast members that caused me to have a serious case of head-scratching. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, and rapper Bad Bunny all make appearances, among others. The cast seemed far more strange and impressive than the premise, and to my surprise director David Leitch doesn’t waste a lick of talent here. In fact, everyone gets more than adequate screen-time as the camera is almost always pointed directly at someone’s face, and if it’s not doing that, it’s speeding somewhere to get to someone’s face.
Just like the greatly admired public transit vehicle this film is named after, the pacing of this film moves at breakneck speed; darting from one scene to the next and introducing every major character as though they are mere commuters passing through, yes, even Brad feels like just another assassin on the train. This isn’t a bad thing, as this film isn’t strictly about one character, it’s a public space that is filled with many different people, different characters. It feels like a communal movie, that is sharing the space and equally respecting everyone’s presence. So with that said, if I’ve learnt anything about director David Leitch from Bullet Train, it’s that he clearly enjoys working with a diverse cast, and if their energy is anything to go off, they clearly enjoy working with him.
Bullet Train leaves the impression that it was probably a really fun movie to shoot. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, a handful of slick action sequences, and a minimal amount of big picture thinking behind its plot. It utilizes prop comedy, dialogue comedy, and even comedic editing – the plot’s wider mystery unravels into a middling climax, which in the end leaves you feeling mostly underwhelmed. It is stylish though, I won’t deny. The editing structure, while unwieldily by the final 20 minutes, does a great job at juggling its large numbers of characters.
Ultimately this film feels just like a pleasant, but oftentimes frustrating commute on a bullet train; one moment it’s moving fast and smooth and all’s right with the world, the next moment it grinds to a halt as it approaches another station and you’re just wishing it sped the hell up again. It’s a fast movie that sometimes feels slow and it’s a funny movie that’s humor sometimes feels lame. But, in the end, is worthwhile.