Bullet Train is many things. It’s a dark comedy. It’s a creative extravaganza of claustrophobic mayhem. It’s also a bit of a whodunnit, combining Murder on the Orient Express with Speed. At its heart though, it’s a story about fate and how even seemingly small, unrelated events interact.
The story revolves around Brad Pitt’s character “Ladybug”, an “unlucky” assassin looking forward to a more peaceful life.
What goes on in the bullet train
Ladybug and several other assassins, who unbeknownst to each other, are all booked for various jobs on the same bullet train. However, all of them have one mission in common: getting their hands on a steel briefcase containing $10 million cash belonging to a Russian triad boss named “White Death.” The situation gets complicated by the presence of two unexpected passengers: a girl called Prince who wants White Death dead, and a Mexican assassin called The Wolf who came looking for revenge.
Mayhem ensues for two hours, as the bag continually changes hands as people get murdered. The train journey turns into a claustrophobic game of Clue, as various assassins begin to realise who’s who.
The story’s based on Kotaro Isaka’s darkly comedic novel. Director David Leitch (John Wick 1) brings it to life with a strong theme of “fate”. The film requires you to suspend disbelief enough to buy the premise that fate controls everything on the speeding train. And that the outside world – limited to the occasional whistle-stop station – is normally populated by outrageously dressed, heavily armed criminal-looking types.
Leitch achieves an action-packed sequence throughout the film with a mix of pacing and cleverly-shot fight scenes which capitalise on the set’s limited space. People get locked in bathrooms, trip over trolley carts, and inevitably get ejected out of train doors.
It’s an action-packed comedy
Cinematically, Bullet Train also pays homage to Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie with its styles. There’s the buddy-movie vibe with a pair witty assassins codenamed “Lemon” (Brian Tyree Henry) and “Tangerine” (a grownup Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Kick-Ass) with their heated debates about Thomas the Tank Engine references and how any people they killed (spoiler alert, it’s 17). Then there’s Ladybug comically trying to figure out how to deal with dead bodies.
Fate also affects an innocuous water bottle that played a pivotal, albeit low-profile role in the story. Its trajectory is told through Guy Ritchie-style flashbacks where it pops up in every scene causing mayhem.
In parallel with the theme of fate, Bullet Train also has the feel of a Greek tragedy. In a surprise twist of fate (spoiler alert!), White Death reveals he was the master of his own fate, bringing together all the assassins he believes were involved in his beloved wife’s untimely death. Then, Ladybug informs White Death that he’s merely standing in for Carter, the real assassin that killed White Death’s wife. In an Electra-like twist, White Death gets a taste of karmic fate, resulting in his entire family sharing a collective comeuppance – a fait accompli, as it were.
Oh, the cameos
Some of the performances in Bullet Train could have been better. But no one can argue with how Brad Pitt delivers that foxy, trained-killer comedy that’s become his calling card over the years (e.g. The Lost City, Mr & Mrs Smith, and now, Bullet Train). There were several gems in the film, from the realisation that he’s been mansplaining about inner peace to a mortally wounded female assassin, to his reaction when Channing Tatum’s cameo character thinks he’s just been propositioned for a “sex thing.”
Bullet Train’s cameos go beyond Tatum reprising his ubiquitous role as the hot, dumb guy. There’s (spoiler alert!) Sandra Bullock as Ladybug’s handler, and Ryan Reynolds as Carter (the assassin Ladybug’s standing in for).
At its core, Bullet Train is a tale about karma and the fate behind everything we do. A cascading chain reaction of events follow the death of a mobster’s wife, down to the adventures of a single bottle of water. What it may lack in plausibility and depth of story, it makes up for in 100% pure Brad Pitt.