Bullet Train (2022)

DAVID LEITCH

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

/USA, 2022. , , , . Screenplay by , based on the book by . Cinematography by . Produced by , David Leitch, . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

The titular vehicle sets off from Tokyo and becomes the setting for an action-packed And Then There None scenario, in a film whose dedication to being as entertaining as it is unimportant provides pleasures throughout its journey and leaves you with nothing rattling around your brain once it’s over.

is a plucky secret agent who is attempting to achieve some manner of inner positivity and harmony while filling in for an ailing fellow operative, hired to perform the simple task of boarding a bullet train bound for Kyoto to retrieve a mysterious briefcase and debark at the next stop. Further up a few cars, two Cockney goons (, ) are heading to a meeting with Japan’s most powerful Russian-expatriate gangster, expected to show up with their contact’s son () and the briefcase that they don’t realize Pitt has easily swiped from under their noses, while elsewhere on the train a cherubically innocent looking young woman (, the film’s best performance) forces a devastated Tokyo father () to help her commit murder by holding his ailing son hostage in his Tokyo hospital room.

What these three situations have in common is for you to find out, as a shell game of clues and characters plays out over the two-hour journey, involving more assassins boarding the train and the gory graphic fights they indulge in while their backstories play out in bouncy montage sequences that threaten to pretzel the narrative logic.

Shot in a vibrant, almost artificial look that is somewhere between Tokyo Drifter, anime and a young child’s video game, this enjoyable bloodfest is enlivened by a rich assortment of actors bringing as much glamour as they do charisma to their performances. Former stunt director turned filmmaker David Leitch manages a very lighthearted sense of whimsy despite graphic images of bodies being sliced and chopped at an alarmingly high rate, finding a better middle ground between vulnerable and vicious than he pulled off with Atomic Blonde, though still failing to achieve the right balance. The film’s status as lesser Tarantino shows itself most in not achieving the superior’s filmmaker’s strength with story structure, some elements of the characters’ relationships attempt to be poignant but feel like they’re there to fill time, and the humour being generated by Pitt’s desperation to find his inner harmony often feels strained despite his always being at his best when playing the easy, good-natured side of his charm. The zippy editing never becomes music video-level tedious, though, and a lot of genuinely funny surprises help keep things moving with good-natured vim and vigour until the last third.

Once the train reaches Kyoto, the narrative does runs out of energy, and what could have been a very fun mainstream enactment of an underground grindhouse movie loses its panache by taking too long to explain its secrets, which aren’t exciting enough to justify the time spent on them. The experience isn’t ruined, however, and the celebrity cameos sprinkled throughout make for extra jolly good fun, each of them a reminder that we still have old-fashioned movie stars who, with Pitt at the forefront, devote themselves to projects that don’t involve capes and tights or are parts of endless franchises.

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