Bullet Train has been one of my most anticipated films of this year. And yet I almost missed the movie’s beginning because I missed my train, funnily enough. Luckily the pre-ads were still playing by the time I got into my seat, so I missed nothing. Luckily… bug!
The story takes place on a Bullet Train in Japan with a bunch of characters who mostly go by monikers. As various plots converge on one another, misunderstandings, multiple mistaken identities, and unceremonious deaths mount, resulting in chaos on the train. And one could say the train itself counts as a character. By the way, I would like to express my disappointment with the marketing of this film because the latest trailers decided to spoil that the titular train would eventually be derailed. Seriously that was a dick move.
I precisely wanted to watch this film because I had gotten the impression that this film was going to be fun. And thankfully, I walked away from the cinema feeling fulfilled in that regard.
The film is colourful, both figuratively and literally. The editing for this film was fast, and the transitions were inventive. There’s a bit of nonlinear storytelling though it doesn’t get to a mind-bending degree, and the plot remains focused on its action.
Now there has been some controversy about the casting for the film which if I’m being honest I’m indifferent toward. For context, the film is based on a Japanese novel, and the film is an American adaptation of that novel, but it’s still set in Japan.
Based on the marketing material, it sort of frames Brad Pitt’s character, The Ladybug, as the main character, but I would say that when you watch the movie, he is the main-ish character. From what I understand, the original book didn’t have a protagonist as such but rather an ensemble cast, and I can see how that’s been mostly lost in translation while adapting it to film.
The film opens with the character The Father, played by Andrew Koji, who I would say has the most compelling motivations, so my first instinct would have been that maybe he should be the main-ish character. Though in the film, that character ends up being outshined by The Elder, played by Hiroyuki Sanada. The tone around these characters is solemn because of their motivations, and when you watch the film, it is very apparent they wanted to go with a different mood to that. But I appreciate the contrast their characters bring as I think it was needed.
Brad Pitt’s character is very much the every guy. Next to that are the characters Lemon and Tangerine, played by Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. They also carry that tone very well because none of them has deeply personal motivations other than to finish their jobs and not die. I was not disappointed with any of their performances.
I don’t want to be too harsh on this part, but I can’t help thinking that Brad Pitt was just a bit too old for this film. That’s probably coming from a place of bias, but I think the makers should have considered someone a bit younger looking. But other than that, I didn’t have a problem with Brad Pitt’s performance. Everyone in this film gave their all.
I did, however, have some issues with the character The Prince, played by Joey King and her eventually revealed father, The White Death, played by Michael Shannon. At the beginning of the film, the character The White Death is built up to be a Yakuza leader. If you know how nationalistic the Yakuza are, you would imagine that this character would be Japanese. Eventually, it’s revealed that The White Death is actually the father of The Prince, who is a British schoolgirl. Then we find out that The White Death is actually a Russian crime lord in Japan who took out the Yakuza, and that part was a huge stretch, and I don’t think it worked at all. I loved all performances and casting choices for this film, but I think they should have gone casting The Prince and The White Death with Japanese actors instead.
Lastly, I recognised Masi Oka (who played Hiro in Heroes) in the film as the unnamed conductor, and I wish The Conductor had been a character but what little we got in the movie was still pretty good. Just saying he could have been more utilised is all.
Despite these issues, I do think you should go watch this film. It is a blast. I seriously cannot understand why critics are being so hostile to this film. As Chris Stuckmann said, Quentin Tarantino does not own nor did he invent witty dialogue and nonlinear storytelling.
Check out the film Snatch and the anime series Baccano! for alternate recommendations. Baccano! in particular, contains three main plots, and one of them takes place on a train. It’s also based on a Japanese light novel though the characters are all American, and it takes place mainly in the 1920s.