Bullet Train movie cast: Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Joey King, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Sandra Bullock
Bullet Train movie director: David Leitch
Bullet Train movie rating: 2.5 stars
With all the money and muscle behind them, you would think keeping a watch on their children must come easy to crime lords. In Bullet Train, that is the one thing that doesn’t. Even as gang lords with a reputation that precedes them round the globe, from Japan to America, juggle an incomprehensible plan to get as many as five assassins on board that shinkansen, their children seem to slip unnoticed around them.
Which is the cause of much mayhem in this film, inspired by a Japanese bestseller called Maria Beetle. Once it had got an English translation, the idea of putting Brad Pitt on a bullet train and blowing both up — with damage to only one, and no prizes for guessing which — was presumably too good to pass up. And here it is, full speed ahead.
There is really no need to know the plot. As one character tells another, even as you are half-expecting someone to make sense of how things are linked: “You work for someone, he works for someone… etc etc. It doesn’t matter anyway.” The only thing that matters, we are told repeatedly, is a dangerous man called ‘The White Death’, who is waiting to collect his son and his money whenever this train wreck halts.
The White Death, yes, because he is “like the plague”. And conveniently Russian.
Forget him and almost all the individual characters, killers or not, are interesting. Needless to say, they are the non-Japanese parts. Tiptoeing around political correctness, Hollywood isn’t making an out and out Japanese bad guy yet, no sir. Unlike our debauched and hence rakishly stylish Hollywood baddies, there is honour and some such always leavening Bullet Train’s Japanese cohorts (including the notable Sanada).
You might ask how a train from Tokyo to Kyoto would have so many foreigners on one ride, without raising a few eyebrows. But you are asking the wrong question here. The train’s local passengers don’t seem to notice any of the goings-on, not even perfunctorily, and are literally only props in this drama.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson is good as Tangerine, one half of a team that goes by the moniker The Twins. Brian Tyree Henry is better as his Thomas the Tank Engine fan partner, Lemon. The scene stealer is Joey King as this young girl with secrets to hide and killer moves of her own, all in a pink uniform inspired by those schoolgirl skirts Japanese men are so partial too.
But this is a Pitt movie, and let there be no illusions about that. He is an assassin in therapy, so he eschews guns and, in his mind, avoids killing as much as possible. Though, of course, that can’t be avoided. Pitt’s nickname ‘Ladybug’ might talk of illusion, karma, thinking good thoughts etc, but he never loses sight of the fact that above all he must survive. With director Leitch (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde), we have already learnt that no amount of blood splatter is too much.
Aware of his charm, and playing it for laughs, Pitt lightens the film every time he is on screen. It’s a star who is embracing his age, and the reading glasses he now needs, and the therapist whose pithy platitudes he has taken to mouthing, but he is a star all right. Which means that his ageing eyes may be only human like the rest of us, but not his unbreakable body, and that the bullet train, with its dizzying array of cars, stands no chance.
There has been some tsk-tsk over Hollywood being Hollywood and not putting its real money where its mouth is about diversity casting, in a film set in Japan and its famed bullet trains, but Pitt makes it all go down easy.
It has the approval, besides of the best-selling author of the original Maria Beetle. “I don’t have any feeling of wanting people to understand Japanese literature or culture,” Kotara Isaka told The New York Times. “It’s not like I understand that much about Japan, either.”
Refreshing as that statement is, the film is hardly so. We have seen this train leave the station.