Brad Pitt stars in the quirky railroad blockbuster Bullet Train, directed by his stuntman David Leitch.
How can it be that “Bullet Train” is about a train ride among killers – and the breakneck trip in the end costs you far less nerves than a weekend trip with a nine-euro ticket? One possible answer is Japan, because we are in a country where delays are measured in seconds. Another answer already leads to the critical part of this review. Because although something deadly dangerous or hilarious is supposed to happen at every moment of this action comedy, it rarely gets exciting and even more rarely funny.
To be on the safe side, director David Leitch also releases a poisonous snake at the beginning, whose whereabouts on the train you should worry about for the rest of the film. In the end, her appearance in the toilet cubicle frequented by Brad Pitt’s film character still doesn’t provide any excitement, but at least one of the better gags. However, betraying him here would be the last thing this film could use. Wasn’t it Fritz Lang who said the wide cinemascope format was only good for funerals and queues? Well, it is also very suitable for trains – at least for their exterior views.
And it’s not just any train that rolls smoothly through the Japanese night and doesn’t want its punctuality spoiled by a couple of gangsters fighting over a silver suitcase. It’s the sleek Shinkansen on the Hayate line between Tokyo and Kyoto. Agatha Christie would love that today’s killers found an alternative to the Orient Express.
But is David Leitch’s action cinema, which specializes in stunt fighting, an alternative to all the wonderful things that have happened on trains in film history? To Hitchcock’s “The Lady Disappears” (and unforgettable scenes in “The Shadow of Doubt” and “The Stranger on a Train”) or Richard Fleischer’s “Narrow Margin” (“A hair’s breadth”?), which made so much of narrowness? All that Leitch’s film, set almost entirely on the rails, transfers from the atmosphere of train travel to the screen is the old childhood question: when will we be there? Or to put it better: Where do we actually want to go?
Brad Pitt’s character of Ladybug is a job-weary killer of the kind that populated the short films of novice directors around the world for a while in the follow-up to Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”. However, she didn’t play Brad Pitt there, and he learned enough from the real Tarantino that he at least made the imitation look like an original in his scenes. The man who played a stuntman in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is now directed by his own longtime stuntman, Leitch. As a dazzling pool of calm in an excess of action, it makes the film adaptation of the novel by Kôtarô Isaka shine, at least temporarily.
Ladybug has filled in for a colleague, reluctantly, but at least the voice in the earpiece charmingly giving him directions belongs to Sandra Bullock.
He is supposed to take a suitcase on the train, but as I said, other people want it too. One of the remarkably few Japanese in this rather free adaptation is a father (Andrew Koji) on the search for a man who committed an assassination attempt on his son. In fact, his presence is the work of a manipulative beauty named “The Prince” (Joey King). She lured him on board as part of a plan to liquidate crime boss White Death (Michael Shannon). Before boarding himself in Act III, he relies on two henchmen he has hired known as “the twins” (Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The former has also seen a lot of Tarantino; similar to the gangster in his first films, he talks like a waterfall about obscure pop culture. He is obsessed with the children’s series “Thomas, the Little Railway”, which has already been extensively quoted in the novel. As the film progresses, he sticks stickers of the British series’ humanized locomotives on the other suspects – which is a big deal when it comes to the resolution at the end.
But that’s not all of the crazy: A Mexican gangster named Wolf (Bad Bunny) expands the tour group at the first stop and believes he recognizes the murderer of his beloved in Ladybug. But he is on board himself under the name “The Wasp”. There, after a dubious narrative trick, the gangsters are finally among themselves.
If you look back at all this after two chaotic hours at the cinema, you have to certify the whole thing as a certain audacity. Almost infantile dialogues meet choreographic excesses of violence like in Hong Kong cinema of the 90s. Shortly before the planned final stop, the digital effects that are unavoidable in blockbuster cinema also increase, but the sensual joy of stuntman ballet remains. And a Pitt, blessed with the karma of seven years in Tibet, is as undeterred by it all as a hippie.
In the end, you’re glad you drove a bit through Japan with all these crazy people. We then buy the return ticket again on tasteful paths. With Yasujiro Ozu: “Journey to Tokyo”.
Bullet Train . USA 2022. Director: David Leitch. Starring Brad Pitt, Michael Shannon, Sandra Bullock. 126 mins