By Ben Konuch
“You are getting the new, improved me. Because if you put peace out in the world, you get peace back.”
There are two different types of films that I would consider great. There are the kinds of films that are intricately composed, with such attention to detail and layers of hidden meanings and themes that you can almost feel the artistry, such as with “The Dark Knight” or “Schindler’s List.” On the other end of the spectrum you have the kind of films that aim to fill a specific niche, the kind of films that know exactly what they need to be and are intended to be a fantastically fun time, even if they’re not trying to astound their audiences with anything outright masterful. “Bullet Train,” the 2022 action thriller/comedy directed by David Leitch, which was based on a novel by Kōtarō Isaka, is exactly that second type of film, and I adored every minute of it.
The premise of “Bullet Train” seems straightforward at a glance: an assassin codenamed Ladybug (Brad Pitt), who has been “reformed” with a more pacifist-leaning attitude, is sent onto a bullet train in Japan to acquire a mysterious briefcase, only to discover a slew of fellow assassins have been sent after the same mission. This quickly devolves into a cat-and-mouse game of death, deceit and stunning revelations. Ladybug desperately tries to resolve these threats and violence with a peaceful approach, often to hilarious effect and captivatingly choreographed fight scenes. Ladybug’s pacifist philosophy is what spares “Bullet Train” from being just another generic action movie, and turns it into a delightfully over-the-top action comedy that had me laughing in the theater far more than I ever expected.
When it comes down to it, it’s really the style and the characters that give “Bullet Train” its real uniqueness and identity. Within its first five minutes, the film showcases exactly what tone and visual flair it wants to adopt through its opening credits, which shows Ladybug walking through a neon-drenched Tokyo to the tune of “Staying Alive” covered by a Japanese singer. Bright, vibrant title cards announce character names in both English and kanji, often accompanied by comedic, extended flashbacks to showcase exactly who these new faces are. This vivid, neon energy accompanies the film throughout its runtime, giving “Bullet Train” a distinctive identity and sharp visual flair.
The second piece of what makes “Bullet Train” so special is its characters. “Bullet Train,” without a doubt, is character driven in the best possible way. While I’ve seen many other reviews call the first third of the film slow, I never had a problem engaging with it even when the plot was taking a while to kick in because of just how entertaining the characters of this film really were. Screenwriter Zac Olkewicz took the time to make each of “Bullet Train’s” packed cast feel fleshed out and different, bringing the audience into a level of engagement with characters we’ve only just met in a way I’ve seldom seen. For example, from the moment Lemon and Tangerine (an assassin duo played by Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor Johnson) enter the film, their vibrant and extremely polar opposite personalities quickly had me invested in their stories and how they’d fit with the film’s greater narrative. Absolutely fantastic performances that interpret a witty script keep interactions between characters fast paced, clever and never dull.
This sharp writing transcends just characters, however, with a plot that’s quick, full of twists and, even more importantly, fantastic payoffs. “Bullet Train” has some of the best uses of the Chekhov’s Gun principle I’ve seen in writing, with setups for moments built up as early as the first five minutes in ways you’ll never anticipate. Every interaction has a purpose in this film, whether it might be to strip away some of the mysteriousness of its characters, reveal a missing piece of the plot’s puzzle, or build up for ingenious revelations or plot payoffs. That’s why “Bullet Train” is so fun, because it’s almost always entertaining while never sacrificing that entertainment for style, substance or narrative satisfaction.
In conclusion, “Bullet Train” may not be the kind of masterpiece that’s riddled with subtext and hidden themes, but it never had to be. It is, in my eyes, the perfect action comedy, filled with sometimes ridiculously graphic violence, characters that are larger than life, and a plot that might take a while to get onto the tracks, but triumphantly roars into station by the time the movie is over. If you enjoy witty characters and well-written screenplays, comedic over-the-top action, or just want something fun or fresh to watch, “Bullet Train” is your film.
I give “Bullet Train a 10/10.
“Bullet Train” is now showing in theaters.
Ben Konuch is a sophomore strategic communications student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and failing horribly at wallyball with his friends.