Bullet Train: When an ensemble caper doesn’t run out of steam

It’s a tough life being a critic, mainly because the abundance of pure drivel at the box office tends to cloud your senses and your biases. Heading into Sony Pictures’ flagship summer blockbuster Bullet Train was no different because it gave off the all too familiar stench of a typically dull and predictable ensemble spectacle. As it turns out, first impressions can be wrong – kind of.

What didn’t help its cause initially was that it opened on the wrong footing, with Brad Pitt as the assassin named Ladybug, strutting all too confidently through a Tokyo train station under instruction from his smooth-talking handler (Sandra Bullock). He hops all too seamlessly onto a train destined for Kyoto and the havoc ensues from there. Pitt begins exploring for a briefcase within the seemingly never-ending train carriages that were uninspiringly bland, causing this reviewer to wonder if there was a need to set this in Japan or if it could just have easily been done on the cheap on the Stansted Express.

Pitt brings you along with him every step of the way and let’s face it, it’s not hard for him to tap into his mellow side, as an assassin with a hippy-esque demeanour. David Leitch of the hugely successful Deadpool series no doubt had a hand in this as Ladybug’s self-deprecating humour who repeatedly laments his ‘bad luck’ sets him up for a humorously chaotic mission.

Between carriages we’re introduced to a variety of intriguing character actors, including Aaron Taylor Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry as the respectively argumentative and affable duo, Tangerine and Lemon. Both were complementary and their bumbling dynamic worked well against Pitt’s calm and cool demeanour. The young Joey King of Netflix fame was a fantastic addition as the prim and proper lady who could inflict violence and terror on someone as easily she could cry on demand. These supporting efforts had enough three-dimensional heart and character to keep the show going and incredibly, the overabundance of Anglican dialects may have subconsciously helped distance itself from a traditional Americanised blockbuster.

In terms of the sum of its parts, it stayed true to form by attempting to imitate the gore and violence of Japanese cinema. The script was witty and not overbearing (except a smidge at the very end), and was pulled together in David Leith’s chaotic and creative style of storytelling with flashbacks and sharp cuts galore. Overall, it was better than expected which is a huge credit to any film these days that manages to stand out from the crowd. It gave off all the wrong impressions, but it never ran out of steam.

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