Trapping a bunch of killers in a confined space for 90 minutes isn’t a new idea. Notable crime films like Reservoir Dogs and The Standoff at Sparrow Creek have mined a lot of tension and violence out of that premise, which remains endlessly enjoyable and reusable.
The success of Bullet Train is proof enough. The David Leitch-directed, Brad Pitt-led action comedy film takes place almost entirely on a Japanese train, and focuses on the mayhem that ensues when all the hired hitmen onboard start to cross paths with each other. The film doesn’t do nearly as much with its unique setting and conflict as it could, but that doesn’t mean Bullet Train isn’t a whole lot of fun to watch. It’s probably one of the most knowingly goofy action films of recent years, and it’s now available on Netflix.
Bullet Train follows Ladybug (Brad Pitt), a notoriously unlucky hitman who agrees to take on a seemingly simple job that requires him to covertly steal a briefcase from a Japanese bullet train before it leaves Tokyo. His assignment quickly turns out to be far more complicated than he thought when he discovers that several other assassins have their eyes on the same object, and chaos quickly ensues.
For most of its 126-minute runtime, Bullet Train follows Pitt’s Ladybug and several of his deadly enemies as they all try to make it out of their difficult circumstances alive. Behind the camera, Leitch makes sure the film’s violence pops with the same R-rated brutality he’d previously proven himself capable of delivering in films like Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. What Bullet Train uniquely attempts to do, however, is inject a kind of Looney Tunes-esque edge of screwball absurdity into its action sequences.
While the film’s brand of humor doesn’t always land (one Thomas the Train-centric running joke is a major misfire), it does add a playful, heightened physicality to most of Bullet Train’s biggest set pieces. Many of the film’s performances, including those given by Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, rise up to perfectly match its sense of humor. Henry and Taylor-Johnson, in particular, steal the show in Bullet Train, while Hiroyuki Sanada briefly brings the same wisened confidence to yet another American film that, frankly, isn’t quite good enough for him.
Bullet Train’s admirably wacky action style and a handful of memorable performances do a lot to make up for its many flaws, including its succession of unnecessary celebrity cameos and its far too faux-clever-for-its-own-good script. Like many of Leitch’s films, Bullet Train is an imperfect action flick that never quite delivers the kind of narrative cohesion one should expect from a standard American blockbuster.
However, while Bullet Train often falls short both narratively and tonally, it still delivers a fun, lighthearted ride that never takes itself too seriously. There’s an omnipresent sense of fun, and, in an age where so many superhero movies and blockbusters could stand to lighten up a little, there’s something undeniably refreshing about a film that’s happy to thrill you, make you laugh, and then release you back into the wild without a care in the world.
Bullet Train is available to stream now on Netflix.