Monday, September 5, 2022

Stubs - Bullet Train

Bullet Train (2022) Starring Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny, Sandra Bullock. Directed by David Leitch. Screenplay by Zak Olkewicz. Based on the novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka. Produced by Kelly McCormick, David Leitch, Antoine Fuqua. Run time: 126 minutes. USA Color Action, Comedy

Saturday, September 3, 2022 was National Cinema Day in the United States, with tickets at about three-fourths of the theaters priced at $3. With prices like that, chances can be taken and the chance we took was on Bullet Train, a recent release starring Brad Pitt but which did not get glowing reviews when it was released.

Based on the Japanese novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka, the film takes place on the Tokaido Shinkansen, a bullet train traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, a trip that incidentally lasts about as long as the film. Brad Pitt stars as Ladybug, a seasoned but unlucky mercenary who has been going through therapy. As a last-minute replacement to Carver, another mercenary, Ladybug has been hired to retrieve a briefcase from the train. He doesn’t know anything beyond that about the briefcase but it connects a series of other assassins who have been booked to be on the train at the same time.

Brad Pitt plays Ladybug in Bullet Train.

Ladybug, a one-time assassin, has gone through therapy and is constantly trying to bring into play the ideas that he’s been exposed to. But that is easier said than done and most of his encounters with the other assassins aboard the train end in someone being killed by their own weapons, despite Ladybug’s best effort to deescalate the situation. Like Ladybug, most of the other assassins are dealing with personal issues and quirks.

The twins, Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), are two professionals hired by The White Death (Michael Shannon), the head of the Yakuza, to retrieve his son from kidnappers. Lemon, who learned everything he needs to know about people from Thomas the Tank Engine, and Tangerine are known as the twins, even though Lemon is Black and Tangerine white.

One of the many assassins on the train is The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio aka Bad Bunny).

Add to the mix, The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio), who is out to avenge the death of his wife by poisoning; The Prince (Joey King), a mercenary with daddy issues; The Hornet (Zazie Beetz) an assassin who specializes in poisons and is out for the money as well; The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) a former member of the Yakuza out for revenge; The Father (Yuichi Kimura), out for his own revenge for the near murder of his son; and The White Death himself who is out to avenge the assassination of his wife. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting off this train alive. Finally, as if that weren't enough, there is a  very poisonous stolen snake on board that Ladybug accidentally frees.

I have not always been a fan of Brad Pitt, nothing against him but I was very impressed with his performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and was looking forward to seeing his performance here. He does not disappoint and carries the film as a very lucky unlucky assassin finding himself after therapy.

I also really like the performance of Brian Tyree Henry as Lemon. His view on people is very simple but he is one of the better characters in the film. I love the quirk of his being a die-hard Thomas fan; no matter what else is happening, he is true to himself.

Sandra Bullock plays Ladybug’s handler on the journey, feeding him information and advice, though she disappears for a good part of the film. She is only seen once at the end in a very brief appearance.

The film is a bit of a Deadpool 2 reunion with Ryan Reynolds repaying Brad Pitt's brief appearance in that film with one of his own. And I don’t mean to leave out Zazie Beetz, who was in both films as well. Her performance in Bullet Train is very brief, too brief in my opinion. I would have liked to have seen more of her.

And let’s not overlook director David Leitch who helmed both films, as well as Atomic Blonde. The man obviously knows a thing or two about action and going over the top, all of which are on display here. There are a few slow moments towards the beginning of the film but things build and build and, in the end, there appears to be no stopping.

Some critics have complained about the whitewashing of the story, set in Japan with non-Japanese actors in the major roles. It is my understanding the author of the book was okay with the diversity of casting, so why should that bother others?

The film on its original release was not box office gold, despite Brad Pitt as the headliner, and received mixed to mediocre reviews from many of the major critics. I don’t think the film was trying to make a bigger statement than enjoy the ride. Summer films are supposed to be somewhat mindless entertainment and while this is far from mindless it is entertaining.

One thing that helps is the humor not so much from the situations but from the dialogue both internal to Ladybug but also between characters. These are oftentimes complex characters who have more to them than just being killing machines. And the fact that Ladybug is looking differently at the world only helps add to the fun.

While there are a lot of killings, most are shown with a minimum of gore, though make no mistake, there is blood and ways of dying that seem almost surreal. Surreal can also be applied to much of the film. The action takes place on a bullet train, some of the action is way over the top and becomes frankly unbelievable. Characters, minor ones, simply disappear as the story goes on and people survive situations that would really kill them. But the fast pace and the humor counter balance everything, making Bullet Train a summer joyride, pun intended.

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