David Leitch has been killing it as an action director.
The former stunt man and stunt coordinator translated his stuntwork knowledge to film effortlessly, creating memorable characters and fight choreography. His work on John Wick (alongside Chad Stahelski), Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Hobbs & Shaw highlights his attention to detail regarding personality and world building (although I would say Chad Stahelski is the superior director of the two). He knows how to invest his audience into his inventive fight scenes, a trait he most likely picked up during his years of stunt and second unit work. Even as a producer for films like Kate, Nobody, and John Wick 2 and 3, you see his touches of his kitche and world-building sensibilities on screen, giving these films a distinct identity in the crowded action genre. Leitch’s latest film, Bullet Train, marks another victory in his colorful filmography.
Based on the book Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka, Bullet Train follows Ladybug (Brad Pitt), an assassin who enters a bullet train in Tokyo to swipe a briefcase, only to be entangled in other plots by yakuza and hitmen. The film juggles numerous plotlines: British assassins Tangerine and Lemon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry respectively) escort a mob boss’s son; The Prince (Joey King), trying to blackmail yakuza Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) into assassinating his father (Hiroyuki Sanada); and The Wolf (Bad Bunny) a Mexican assassin seeking revenge against an American poison-based killer who’s wondering the train. There’s more than a little Tarantino and Guy Richie influence in this film, especially given the episodic nature of the script as it juggles multiple plotlines. While the first act of the film does get a little overbearing with the exposition, the memorable and colorful characters make these scenes worth watching. Leitch smartly shows many backstory scenes rather than just telling the audience; Bad Bunny’s was my favorite, as his backstory felt like its own short film. The film’s also beautiful, as Tokyo looks stunning, bursting with color and revealing a vibrant world worth exploring.
The fight scenes are fun, with excellent practical blood squibs and stylistic CGI gore blended well with the environment. While the choreography isn’t as elaborate as Leitch’s previous films, was disappointing as I was hoping for action scenes with less interspersed cuts and close ups. But, they did effectively communicate the characters’ personalities. Brad Pitt’s choreography particularly highlights his bumbling but naturally gifted skills, reflecting how out-of-place and desperate he feels on this train. His choreography is almost reminiscent of Jackie Chan with how Pitt uses his environment and the personality he exudes during his fight scenes. Brad Pitt delivers the most hilarious performance in a sea of great actors. His genuine desire to be chill and constant shock at everything happening around him is incredibly funny. The rest of the cast is also excellent, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry having terrific chemistry with each other and Joey King being perfectly hatable as a villain. Andrew Koji’s and Hiroyuki Sanada’s more serious performances greatly contrast everyone else’s over-the-top characters, adding to the film’s humor. The film’s also littered with fun cameos that I wouldn’t dare spoil. The whole film felt like everyone was having fun making it.
Bullet Train is a creative action-comedy that’s a highlight in a year dominated by mediocre action films. While I could imagine a director like Takashi Miike handling the material better, Leitch still skillfully weaves this plot-lines together in a fast pace, exciting movie. The film feels more personal to Leitch’s taste among the last few big budget franchise films he’s been making, and I’m happier because of it. Still, I am waiting for when Leitch will reach for something a little more ambitious, as since Atomic Blonde, he’s been playing it relatively safe. I look forward to see what he has in store next.
Bullet Train is now in theaters.