It’s not just Retro Reviews that get contributed by you, our beloved Outposters. Anything is up for grabs. If you want to see your name up in lights and have something interesting to say about movies, streaming or the world of entertainment, then drop us a line at [email protected]. Just like Wrenage did after he went to see Bullet Train. Here he is, taking a break from Stephen King’s back catalogue and 80s Ninja madness to tell us all about it…
Bullet Train has a few issues, but it’s not a total bullet to the brain, like many other movies coming out of Hollywood these days. All aboard for a review. We’ll keep it mostly spoiler-free.
Bullet Train is a mixture of Guy Ritchie, Tarantino, The Usual Suspects and modern action all wrapped up in a slick package. It stars Brad Pitt, who is starting to show his age. I knew Pitt was in his fifties, but I was surprised to see he was eight years into his fifties. That makes him almost as ancient as Tom Cruise. Any day now Pitt will show up on the cover of AARP Magazine with a headline like:
“Brad Pitt finds contentment making apple wine on his Idaho ranch.”
Pitt plays an affable secret agent in Bullet Train. He is assigned to board a Japanese train and recover a brief case. Little does he know that multiple assassins are also on board, and all of their paths cross as the puzzle-box plot works itself out.
Pitt’s co-stars on this journey include Joey King, an assassin who gets by on her innocent-girl persona. I’m not sure how a girl who looks like Sandra Bernhard would be given the benefit of the doubt by anyone, however. For that reason, a bit of miscasting exists here. We’re not talking Keanu Reeves in Dracula levels, however.
Andrew Koji plays a guy who is the particle that the pearl of plot forms around. Beyond that, Koji’s role has little meat on it. It is a far cry from his outing as Storm Shadow in Snakes Eyes: A G.I. Joe Origin. Koji is going down in billing rather than up. Then again, having a career after being in Snake Eyes: A G.I. Joe Origin is a worthy accomplishment in and of itself.
Hiroyuki Sanada also appears in Bullet Train because the movie is set in Japan. Sanada is basically this generation’s Soon-Tek Oh. If you need a Japanese guy in your movie, call Sanada. He plays a mysterious-old-guy character. Sanada will be in John Wick 4. Does that mean John Wick is going to Japan?
Michael Shannon plays a bad guy in Bullet Train. Shannon is fairly restrained, however. He doesn’t reach Take Shelter levels of intensity. He was a bit of a force in that movie, wasn’t he? In Bullet Train, Shannon is merely a weighty presence and perhaps a bit wasted.
Sandra Bullock shows up as Pitt’s handler. She spends 99 percent of the movie as a voice on a phone, supplying exposition. You could basically call her role a cameo. In addition, two other actors show up for brief cameos. Are they funny? Maybe. They are also a bit distracting to the story. They were probably better off on the cutting-room floor.
Brian Henry plays an assassin with an affinity for Thomas the Tank Engine. Henry showed up in Joker and Kong vs. Godzilla, but I can’t remember him in either. Henry has a substantial role in Bullet Train and does nice work. He also has the hair of that homeless albino person in End of Days. Man, that guy was freaky…
The unexpected MVP of Bullet Train is Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I gave up on Taylor-Johnson after his turn in Godzilla, when his entire character seemed to consist of getting left somewhere, looking around questioningly, picking a direction and then going in that direction. Seriously, you could make a drinking game of it. In retrospect, that was probably not his fault. That kind of stuff is maybe the result of getting hung out to dry by the director.
In Bullet Train, Taylor-Johnson plays a British assassin with a solid blend of cocksureness, irreverence and violence. He comes off as the main character for a decent chunk of the movie as he copes with his plan going awry. I was going to give Taylor-Johnson kudos for his accent, but then I discovered he is British. I learn something new every day.
Maybe this role will put Taylor-Johnson in the running for the new James Bond? Discuss amongst yourselves…
Bullet Train is based on a book by Japanese author Kotaro Isaka. If Bullet Train is an indication of the type of stories he writes, he could be fun to check out. Isaka has not been super prolific, but he has had a story in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which is fairly hard to get into.
David Leitch directed Bullet Train. He also worked on John Wick and helmed Atomic Blond and Deadpool 2. How did he do on Bullet Train? Let’s get the bad out of the way first.
Bullet Train suffers a bit from being overly-stylized. This is a subjective complaint, however. I prefer a more classical approach in cinematic storytelling. Also, the movie gets a bit cutsie-poo as it tries to be clever. For example, we are treated to a montage of a bottle’s journey within the story at one point. Again, that creates the question…is this funny enough to be necessary? Or is it better jettisoned from the final product to keep the story moving?
It seemed like a few things were set up and ignored. At the start of the film, Pitt drops his storage locker key and ticket. It means nothing. Likewise, Pitt has a couple run-ins with the train’s ticket taker, and then the ticket taker never shows up again. That stuff felt incomplete.
How about the action? Modern action can have a certain blandness because it seems overly-choreographed. Bullet Train has this problem to a degree. This is excusable to a point because Bullet Train is an action/comedy. Plus, it has a surprising amount of blood-letting.
Overall, the good outweighs the bad. The best part is that Bullet Train contains pretty much zero wokeness. Characters of both genders are characters, not check boxes. Anyone can get killed, and no messages exist. The closest the movie comes to messages is some zen philosophy espoused here and there by Pitt and Sanado.
Bullet Train is a throwback. I get an early 2000s vibe from it. You can tell the people who put it together had no agenda beyond entertaining the audience. Bullet Train was probably the second-best time I had in the theater this year. The other good time was Top Gun: Maverick. We’ll see if Bullet Train achieves a similar level of crowd-pleasing.