Bullet Train SPOILER FREE Review: Visually Gripping & Violently Funny

by Eve Andrews
Brad Pitt, Bullet Train London

As much as I love the early The Matrix films, I’ve always said that they’ve got a lot to answer for when it comes to the over two decades worth of cheesy cinematic copycats it spurred. And admittedly, when it came to Bullet Train, my initial expectation was that it would just be another eye-roll-worthy action flick that would fall neatly into the meaningless Matrix knock-off category. And lo and behold – I was wrong

From Director, David Leitch, Bullet Train is an intrigue-driven, gruesome thrill ride laced with hilarity of both the dark and light variety. It follows the story of Ladybug, the ironic pseudonym of an ill-fated hitman whose terrible luck never ceases to hinder his work. Tired of every gig going up in flames, he’s determined to get this latest snatch job on the bullet train to Kyoto done quickly, quietly and cleanly. However, with multiple connecting forces at work, what started out as the simple task of stealing a briefcase suddenly flies violently off the rails.

Based on the dark, comedic thriller of the same name by Kōtarō Isaka, I was surprised to learn that Bullet Train’s source material was, in fact, a novel as opposed to a graphic novel, as this movie was bursting with comic book vibes.

The first thing I noted was the distinctive cinematography. With its liberal use of fun visuals and fast-paced cuts used for both dramatic and comedic effect, Bullet Train is a grade A example of the story-telling rule ‘show, don’t tell’. The clever use of stylised cinematography for effective exposition, paired with the quick-witted script co-written by Zak Olkewicz and Bullet Train’s original author, Kōtarō Isaka, made way for enough suspended disbelief to enjoy the improbable but beautifully choreographed action scenes. Bullet Train doesn’t take itself seriously – it’s silly, and it knows it, and it’s not afraid to lean into that. Imagine, if you can, if Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright jointly chipped in with Leitch’s direction of Deadpool – as bizarre as it sounds, that was the feeling I got. And I loved it.

As we all expected, Brad Pitt absolutely crushed his starring role of Ladybug. The dry under-dog humour was of the ilk that has a dangerous tendency to fall irritatingly flat, but Pitt carried it off beautifully, presenting a fun, believable character that felt well-rounded and distinct. And Pitt’s bumbling hitman persona played perfectly against Joey King’s performance as the conniving Prince. King’s captivating ability to shift so seamlessly between ‘innocent little girl’ and insidious, scheming mastermind was chilling. 

But for me, the absolute standout performance was that of the Cockney brotherly duo, Lemon and Tangerine. Played by Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, their strong characterisation and believable sibling chemistry was electric right from their first moment on screen up until their last, even provoking a few unexpected tugs at the old heartstrings. I’ve never rooted so hard for a pair of low-life crooks before! 

There are a bunch of other performances I could talk about, but we’ve only got limited time here, so let’s just round this corner off by saying there really wasn’t a bad actor in the bunch. Absolutely stellar cast.

While Bullet Train would probably fall into the ‘action comedy’ category, it’s not defined by its physics-defying fight scenes. The action is there, and it’s fun and satisfying to watch, but the ultimate core of the movie is its character-driven intrigue. The plot is meticulously woven together with various interconnecting character arcs, and this careful writing, paired with its thick overlay of comedy, is what makes it different. It’s a highly stylised movie rife with gorgeously gripping visuals, characters to root for, and characters you’ll undoubtedly love to hate!

Whether you’re a simple film lover looking for a fun Saturday evening popcorn thriller, or a sophisticated enthusiast looking to analyse its interesting cinematography, Bullet Train is definitely worth a try. 

What are YOUR thoughts on David Leitch’s Bullet Train? Unique and thrilling, or boring and overblown? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

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