What happens when you mix Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express with John Wick and sprinkle in a little Tarantino for good measure? The result would probably look something like BULLET TRAIN, the new bloody mess of a film from John Wick/Deadpool 2 director David Leitch. Boasting a star-studded cast and promising a ton of wild action, double-crossing and zany humor, BULLET TRAIN is an entertaining thrill ride from start to finish. Brad Pitt leads the cast with a typically charismatic performance that carries the movie, proving he has the staying power to anchor big-budget action movies into his late 50s. While BULLET TRAIN is no Oscar-winning masterwork, it delivers the goods for fans of mysteries, comedies or action thrillers who want a fantastic time at the multiplex.
The movie, similar to a Hercules Poirot mystery, starts when a trained assassin named Ladybug (Pitt) is assigned a simple mission. His task is to retrieve a briefcase from the baggage compartment of a bullet train traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto. However, Ladybug soon realizes the situation is far more complicated than his handler (the voice of Sandra Bullock) described. Five other assassins are also conspiring to get their hands on the briefcase, all with their own motivations and conflicting plans. BULLET TRAIN has typical plot elements for sure: a macguffin in the form of a briefcase that a major criminal organization wants delivered safely and an assassin who wants out of the profession with a peaceful lifestyle in mind. However, the stylization that Leitch brings to the story and the mostly unpredictable plot twists in the second/third acts make this an exhilarating and memorable roller coaster ride. Also, the movie’s witty dialogue and sharp sense of humor consistently keeps the audience laughing through the death and carnage.
One aspect of BULLET TRAIN’s story that could have been a recipe for disaster is the amount of characters the script introduces and expects the audience to care about. In the first 20-30 minutes, the film almost derails itself with a large amount of flashbacks and backstories that slow down the film’s breakneck pacing. However, as the movie continues, the various characters and backstories come together wonderfully, and even prove the significance of certain flashbacks that feel pointless at first watch. Zak Olkewicz’s script requires some patience from the audience, but it fully pays off in the form of some top-notch character writing that will cause viewers to care about some morally reprehensible people. By the end of the film, every character who remains on the bullet train with Pitt has a clear motivation for placing themselves on this highly murderous transport.
The two actors who steal the show, however, are Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry as Tangerine and Lemon. They play two brothers who are hired to safely deliver the briefcase for an unknown contractor, and who find themselves in direct conflict with Pitt’s character, who steals the briefcase for his own mission. Taylor-Johnson and Henry have some of the best onscreen chemistry of the year and create the most emotionally compelling and hilarious storyline of the film, despite playing two absolute psychopaths. Little nuggets of humanity in all the violence are what make BULLET TRAIN such a compelling watch, and Tangerine and Lemon exemplify the fantastic character work that fills the runtime of the film. All of the eccentric personalities bounce off of each other perfectly, making this film more unique than just an Agatha Christie ripoff or a Tarantino wannabe.
With BULLET TRAIN, Leitch shows himself to be one of the more entertaining action directors in Hollywood, proving he can hold an emotional storyline while executing some zany and bloody action. The stunt-work is top notch, and even though some shaky visual effects appear in the last third of the film, the action continues to be a highlight of the experience. Leitch clearly designed BULLET TRAIN to be a big-screen experience first and foremost, and in that sense it serves as further evidence that original filmmaking can come to the theater and dominate the box office. Any fans of action thrillers should support BULLET TRAIN, and in doing so they will have an awesome time at the theater.