Sony Pictures Entertainment

Dueling Critics: Bullet Train

15:00 August 09, 2022
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

In the new action comedy Bullet Train, Brad Pitt plays an unlucky assassin who takes the seemingly simple mission of boarding a bullet train in Tokyo and collecting a valuable briefcase. Of course the mission gets very complicated because the train is crawling with other assassins who also want the briefcase. The movie is directed by David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) and based on a book by Kôtarô Isaka.

Fritz: Sometimes there are movies you like and enjoy even though you can see why that movie put off other people. Bullet Train is such a movie for me. It's preposterous and cartoonish, but I also felt it was colorful, energetic, and kept me fully engaged for its 126-minute running time. But you were not a fan of it. I can probably anticipate some of the issues you have with the film, but I don't want to put words in your mouth, so tell me why Bullet Train didn't work for you.

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David: I wish more filmmakers were more concerned with telling a compelling story, even in an action movie, instead of just trying to convince us how hip and cool their film is. Stylistically, Bullet Train comes off as obnoxious with its flashy editing, where every other cut is accompanied by a "whoosh!" sound, and I am so tired of seeing characters walking in slow-motion as a punk song plays on the soundtrack so we'll absolutely, positively know that they are f-ing badasses.

As for Pitt's main character, he is one-note. The jokes about his new age-y positive attitude get old really fast. I also thought Michael Shannon, as the movie's major villain, White Death, was ineffectual, and his big "why I did it" explanation in the finale is so ridiculously convoluted that it reminded me of the (purposely) hilarious scene in the blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite (2009) where the hero and his team take the overly intricate way to figure out that the bad guy's Anaconda Malt Liquor product causes penis shrinkage.

And Bullet Train doesn't know when to quit. Villains won't die and keep popping back up, and the train crashes, and crashes,...and crashes again.

What I did like about the film were the two hitmen characters of Tangerine and Lemon, play by, respectively, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry. These characters are genuinely funny, and the two actors have a good rapport with each other. They deserve their own movie.

So, why did you actually like Bullet Train. Were you just having a really good day?

Fritz: Well, I was never bored for starters. I enjoyed some of the film's humor (I've traveled abroad and been similarly fascinated by a few foreign toilets I've encountered), and I actually thought the film did take some care in its plotting. Yes, it gets convoluted at times, but there were reversals I enjoyed (without spoiling too much, I liked the one that resolved the fate of a character confined to a hospital bed). I also thought it did a good job of turning up the temperature for both Brad Pitt's character and the Lemon/Tangerine characters, getting them in deeper and deeper trouble.

I normally think end-credits scenes are at best pointless or at worst annoying, but I liked Bullet Train's end-credits scene because I felt it did add a satisfying bit of context to a scene that had otherwise come off as random.

I also agree with you that Lemon and Tangerine are good characters because they actually have a relationship. I also thought Pitt's character (Ladybug) and Maria (Sandra Bullock) also had a relationship even though it was mostly over the phone. Is the film character-driven? No, almost no action film is nor do they have rich, multi-layered characters (I love Star Wars, but Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker aren't exactly complex). I also thought the film at least created memorable antagonists (Lemon and Tangerine among them) for Pitt. One of my complaints with the wildly overrated John Wick series is the villains/antagonists are all complete non-entities (I couldn't describe any of them to you anymore) and the films are essentially like watching someone play video games.

Yes, I think Bullet Train is too talky at times and yes it's too convoluted at times. But one thing that I think is tough about reviewing movies is that we have to review them right after we see them. This is a problem because I think a great judge of a movie is how well you remember it months or years after you see it. Despite its flaws, I think I will actually remember Bullet Train.

David: I'll remember this film, but it won't be fondly.

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