With Brad Pitt‘s latest Bullet Train now available on 4K, Blu and DVD, let’s take a look at director (and former Pitt stuntman) David Leitch‘s action film.
It’s clear from films like Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 that Leitch knows how to direct action. Bullet Train, based on the 2010 novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka, confirms that the former stuntman knows how to create energetic, propulsive sequences that will get audiences’ blood pumping.
The action comedy boasts a surprisingly strong, diverse cast led by Pitt as a reluctant assassin codenamed Ladybug. He’s newly back on the job after being shot twice, hoping to ease back into spy activities with a simple “snatch and grab” assignment courtesy of handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock, voice cameoing on the phone for most of the film).
What Ladybug doesn’t know is that the titular bullet train is host to a bevy of other assassins, including British teen The Prince (Joey King), “twin” brothers Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) who bicker like an old married couple, and silent The Wolf (Bad Bunny aka Benito A Martínez Ocasio). It’s clear almost immediately that there’s more to these missions than meets the eye, and that’s before The Hornet (Zazie Beetz) starts complicating things using a fast-acting snake poison.
The common thread is that nearly everyone has ties to an extremely dangerous man named The White Death (Michael Shannon). How all of the individual missions intersect, and who manages to survive, is part of the film’s charm, which includes numerous over-the-top action set pieces staged within the confines of the train.
A lot of this is fine, but the convoluted narrative, which also includes the father (Andrew Koji) of a child pushed off the roof of a building, his father (the iconic Hiroyuki Sanada) and The White Death’s own kidnapped son (Logan Lerman in a thankless role), quickly becomes exhausting. Screenwriter Zak Olkewicz’s motto appears to be “more is more,” so even in its quieter moments Bullet Train never takes a beat to make audiences invest in the characters or their separate revenge missions.
It’s not so much that they’re all “villains” as these characters barely sketched out personalities with quirks and catchphrases. Bullet Train is a film populated entirely by big personalities portrayed by famous faces, including bit parts for Heroes‘ Masi Oka and The Boys’ Karen Fukuhara and several amusing cameos from folks like Channing Tatum. And while each of these folks are welcome, the film’s gruelling 126 minute run time is an endurance test, with both the never ending action and several characters overstaying their welcome long before the train literally jumps the track.
The sad part is that a smaller dose of all of this would have been more than sufficient, and far more satisfying. Lemon’s frequent use of Thomas the Train to read the intentions of his fellow passengers, The Prince’s penchant for disarming others using her youthful look and Ladybug’s attempts to therapize his way out of violent situations (usually to bloody effect) are all amusing, quirky traits.
But when there’s no reprieve from these larger than life characters, no ebbs or flows to modulate the viewing experience, and a never-ending barrage of increasingly ridiculous action (fun at first; exhausting by the end), Bullet Train proves that sometimes “more” is actually too much.
There’s plenty of extras on the 4K and Blu, including:
- Outtakes & Bloopers
- Catch What You Missed: Easter Eggs
- All Aboard the Pain Train: Stunts
- Mission Accomplished: Making of Bullet Train
- Trained Professionals: The Cast
- Select Stunt Previs
- Audio Commentary with David Leitch, (producer) Kelly McCormick & (screenwriter) Zak Olkewicz
Of these, the ‘Catch What You Missed: Easter Eggs’ featurette is the best because it has a cheeky “Train Announcer” voice-over that points out small details like the meaning behind Brad Pitt’s t-shirt and what book Prince is reading.
‘Select Stunt Previs’ offers a picture-in-picture idea of how the stunts were conceived and executed by stunt coordinator and 2nd Unit Director Greg Rementer. The “…Pain Train” featurette fills in the gaps by showing the actors rehearsing their extensive fight choreography, with Bad Bunny highlighted as the hardest working member of the cast.
Finally, ‘Trained Professionals: The Cast” is mostly a gush fest about the film’s many famous faces, minus Pitt and Bullock, who don’t sit down for interviews.
It’s surprising that there’s no extras on Production Designer David Scheunemann’s work designing the bullet train. Considering how vital the setting is (at one point the train is referred to as “the leading lady” of the film), this feels like an obvious omission and a missed opportunity.
Also: the cover art for the physical release (above) is horrid.
The Bottom Line:
- Film: 3/5
- Extras: 3/5