‘Bullet Train’ Review: All Aboard for a Bloody (Mostly) Good Time

It’s rare, but sometimes a trailer depicts a film for exactly what it is.

“Bullet Train” is based off the Japanese novel of the same name, and stars Brad Pitt as an unlucky American assassin who gets caught up in a conspiracy aboard a moving Shinkansen (or, “bullet train”). Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, and Sandra Bullock also star while David Leitch (Pitt’s former stunt double) directs.

It’s incredibly unlikely that you haven’t seen a trailer for this film, because the first one dropped in March and has subsequently played before every new release in the five months since. The ads promised wacky characters, quick one-liners, and over-the-top violence, and for better or worse that’s exactly what “Bullet Train” gives you.

I’m pretty agnostic to Brad Pitt as an actor (he’s great in things like “Moneyball” but I don’t seek out his films like I do a DiCaprio or Denzel). That being said, I love his comedic roles, like in “True Romance,” “Burn After Reading,” or this year’s “The Lost City” (which starred Sandra Bullock, who has a voice role here). Pitt has some light-hearted moments of banter and holds his own in the stunt department (doing a very respectable and Tom Cruise-worthy 95% of them), and it’s fun to see movie stars still doing movie star things.

Most of the rest of the cast are glorified cameos, though Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry stand out as “The Twins,” a pair of assassins who give Pitt trouble on the train. Taylor-Johnson and Henry share some good back-and-forth chemistry and cheeky attitudes, and I wouldn’t mind getting an origin story with the two about their other missions.

The action is mostly pretty solid, as to be expected from a David Leitch film (he co-directed the first “John Wick”). As a career stuntman Leitch knows how to frame and choreograph fight sequences, and make them both brutal and entertaining. There are several kills here that are so over-the-top I couldn’t help but get giddy in my chair.

The biggest issue with the film, however, is the same one that plagues every one of Leitch’s other projects, and that’s that the narrative runs out steam about 30 minutes before the film actually ends. Whether it be “Atomic Blonde,” “Deadpool 2,” or “Hobbs and Shaw,” Leitch seems to blow both his budget and his good will in the first two acts before limping to the finish. This results in a climax that is noticeably cheaper looking (this film cost $90 million and until the final fight looks better than the $250 million “Thor: Love & Thunder”) and leaves you with the classic “this would’ve been a perfect 100-minute movie” thought. The film also does the thing I hate where it has characters recap things the audience already knows, or shows flashbacks in case you were too dumb to catch details the first time around.

Despite my issue with the film’s clock management, the pacing and tone are both fairly consistent throughout and audiences who love to see big name actors fight on a modern locomotive soaked in neon lights should get their jollies. I’m going to give “Bullet Train” a 6, which may seem too low because I mostly had nothing but good things to say about it, but I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: what’s a rating but a subjective summarization of a detailed review you just read?

Critics Rating: 6/10


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