Based on the book by Kôtarô Isaka, Written by Zak Olkewicz, and Directed by David Leitch
The next summer blockbuster is upon us. This time in the form of an action-packed thriller starring Hollywood staple, Brad Pitt, with an ensemble cast. Pitt is tasked, by an off-screen Sandra Bullock, to collect a suitcase with a train sticker on the handle. The job couldn’t be simpler… or so they thought. Instead, Brad Pitt’s character, Ladybug, is thrust into a labyrinth of espionage, assassinations, and Japanese kids’ cartoons.
The first to unpack is the casting, as it was the centre of controversy online, being criticised for having white cast members in a story written by a Japanese author. However, Kôtarô Isaka defends the casting choices, adding that ‘his story’s ragtag crew of killers are maybe “not even Japanese,”‘. So long as the author was able to give authentic consent, to me, there is no issue. The only perturbing aspect was the president of Sony saying that Isaka “gave us comfort in [honouring] its Japanese soul but at the same time giving the movie a chance to get big giant movie stars and have it work on a global scale.” Implying that the film could only be financially successful if it had western-based movie stars, which reads as ignorant of the international movie scene.
For me, none of the casting choices seemed out of place, except for Michael Shannon as ‘The White Death’, as his performance was somewhat stilted and yet manic. Joey King felt the wrong fit for The Prince, as it is never quite believable that she is capable of the actions her character does in the movie. Although, it doesn’t quite help that all the female characters lacked any kind of substance or a chance for any likeable qualities. The last thing to add, which is a personal pet peeve of mine, is the actors (in this case, Buckinghamshire-based Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and California-based Brian Tyree Henry) that either choose to put on a cockney accent or are directed to do so when neither of those actors is from those social classes. These choices are always rooted in making characters seem ‘rough’, which adds to the classist embedded stereotype of lower-class Londoners.
Apart from those critiques, this film is a wild romp of an adventure. The fight sequences are fun, with a hint of unpredictability. The story itself is reminiscent of old-fashioned spaghetti westerns with mysterious pseudonyms for names, like The Wolf or The Hornet, played by Bad Bunny and Zazie Beetz, respectively. Both actors brought amazing qualities to their characters and the overall feel of the story, and I wish we had more encounters with them. Brad Pitt provides the warm, witty charm that grounds the story. The highlight, in terms of performances, was Andrew Koji. He brought the realism and depth this movie needed in order for there to be any form of stakes. The cameos in this film reminded me of when I saw The Lost City, starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, and a supporting performance of Pitt. This made me wonder if producers pulled some strings and ‘borrowed’ Bullock and Tatum whilst they were already on set for The Lost City and brought them into Bullet Train to save time – although, if they were doing that, it feels insulting to me they did not bring Daniel Radcliffe, though I shall let that slide just this once. There is another brilliant cameo of a certain Hollywood star, that was a brilliant touch to the story, which I will not spoil!
Whilst Bullet Train sometimes feels disproportionate, prioritising style over appropriate pacing, this film was entertaining as it was captivating. It provided immense escapism for 2 and a half hours that you will not regret. However, if you are not a fan of brutal kills by katanas and gunfire, this might not be for the faint-hearted. I do feel these types of films that are stylistically infused with multiple cultures will, hopefully, become a more common part of Hollywood. That is something I very much look forward to.
Bullet Train is currently in cinemas.