If there is anything that director David Leitch is good at, it’s that he is brilliant at finding the hilarity in the chaos. In his new film Bullet Train, based on the popular Japanese novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka, Brad Pitt plays Ladybug, an “unlucky” assassin who is assigned to steal a briefcase from other assassins while on a speeding bullet train in Japan.
Of course, this being a Leitch movie, chaotic non-stop action is a given. Sometimes it does become a little too much as the fighting does overpower the dialogue — becoming confusing as to what is going on until the very end of the film, when the entire purpose of the heist is explained.
Fortunately, the ride throughout the film is just so bonkers that you can’t help but have a little fun with it, especially with Pitt’s “dude” humor that is, oddly, more endearing than annoying. Ladybug doesn’t want to fight and just wants to do the job and then go home, but is forced into situations where he has to battle it out with the multiple assassins on the train — including Bad Bunny’s Wolf, which has a Quentin Tarantino-level of fight choreography that is amusing to watch. The hysterical battles continue as Ladybug also faces fast-talking brother assassins Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), who are hilarious and have a lot of chemistry between each other that – despite the constant threats Tangerine issues to Lemon – there is a sense of brotherly love and care between the two. The film really emphasizes “luck” and “karma” – in the same vein as The Nice Guys – where Ladybug calls himself “unlucky”, but somehow manages to survive. It’s an entire theme that, again, feels very satisfying at the very end because, again, it all ends up making sense.
Though Pitt’s casting (as well as the other non-Asian characters) has created some controversy, given the original story consists of only Japanese characters, they do make the non-Asian characters into bumbling idiots — leaving the serious, “smart” roles for the Asian actors — Andrew Koji’s Yuichi and Hiroyuki Sanada’s The Elder. The Prince being played by a young white woman like Joey King felt more satisfying than if played by an Asian actor. There is a moment in the film when the Prince, who is also an assassin, pretends to be frightened by the violence. Lemon, played by Brian Tyree Henry, simply ignores it and says “sorry, I get distracted by white girl tears.” The symbolism behind King’s casting felt more powerful at how conniving and deadly the character really was. It also felt very satisfying knowing that — despite the many tropes of the white man in a powerful Japanese crime organization — the main villain “White Devil” (Michael Shannon) is going to die.
The only disappointing part of the film is Koji and Sanada are given limited screen time and are never given anything more than to be stern yet very gifted fighters. Though, I did appreciate the film not giving into the typical trope of killing off the main Asian character for ”honor” sake. It’s a huge improvement from Kate, a film centering a white assassin in *surprise* Japan, also produced by Leitch.
Overall, the film is an enjoyable romp to sit down and take all in for its outrageous action and over-the-top story.