David Leitch’s latest is a bloody hilarious action comedy
David Leitch has made a rather successful jump into the director’s chair after having been a stuntman for most of his career. He first broke out with John Wick (2014), which has spawned an entire franchise, and has been intelligent enough to keep moving to varying films. He’s directed entries in big blockbusters (Deadpool 2 (2018), Hobbs & Shaw (2019)), and tried reviving old-fashioned gritty action flicks such as with Atomic Blonde (2017). He now ventures into the action-comedy world, bringing his great choreographed action, into a complex ensemble piece.
Bullet Train (2022) follows Ladybug (Brad Pitt), a code-named mercenary who is tasked with retrieving a suitcase from a passenger on a high-speed train in Japan. On the train, however, he encounters other members of his underworld that seek the suitcase.
Leitch leans into the comedic side of his directing talents that had surfaced in his blockbuster fare. He relishes jumping between different characters and their seeming disparate stories and playing around with clashing dynamics. In a way, Bullet Train’s narrative structure could be compared to the ensemble editing style of Love Actually (2003) and its subsequent rom-com copycats. Leitch also, supposedly, challenges himself by setting nearly the entire film on a train. However, the American director seems to exploit the loop-hole of flashbacks to change settings a bit too much. There are too many cuts to visual aids for sequences where characters are explaining something. Likewise, certain plot points that are seeded early in the movie are then flashed again when they come into play later in the narrative, as if viewers were too dumb to remember what had happened a couple of minutes ago. This leads to a certain hand-holding that is unnecessary in Bullet Train, but that is less Leitch’s fault, and more the movie industry at large, which thinks that viewers can’t follow a simple story.
Leitch assembles a rather impressive cast of performers who you would not normally peg as action-comedy stars. Pitt is stellar in the lead role, as a gun-for-hire who has recently entered therapy and is trying to bring about a pacificism to his job. The rest of the cast of characters includes such colorful names as Joey King, Logan Lerman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Bad Bunny, and Zazie Beetz; although the two standouts of this film are Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor Johnson, as two bickering cockney assassins. The chemistry between these two, and their comedic timing, even with repetitive and sometimes stale jokes, turns each of their scenes into an absolute gem. Paired with the always capable Pitt, they elevate this film and particularly its comedic moments above the more convoluted plot elements.
Leitch has been steadily polishing his directing of action throughout his previous films, Bullet Train maintains his caliber of thrilling long takes, though they are somewhat robbed of the rawness of John Wick or Atomic Blonde in favor of humor. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it fits tonally with the rest of the film and lightens the otherwise ubiquitous bloody violence.
In the end, Bullet Train is an enjoyable action comedy which excels in both the action and comedic elements of its story particularly. The story and characters are cookie-cutter once the distracting editing is stripped away, but they aren’t bland enough to prevent the strengths of this film from delivering a truly enjoyable ride.