‘Bullet Train’ Zooms Past Sensible Storytelling But Manages to Have Some Fun Along the Way

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Bullet Train (CREDIT: Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Michael Shannon, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Karen Fukuhara, Masi Oka

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: R for Blood from Guns, Swords, Knives, and Poison

Release Date: August 5, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: If a movie takes place on a speeding train, you can bet on non-stop action! Or can you? Well, you can at least rely on a captive set of characters. As the titular transport in Bullet Train charges ahead from Tokyo to Kyoto, our main fellow to follow is Ladybug (Brad Pitt), who appears to be some sort of assassin, except that he doesn’t seem very violent, at least not on this mission. Then there’s the brotherly pair of Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), who are much more comfortable whipping out their firearms. And there’s no way to miss Prince (Joey King) in her short skirt and tight bubblegum pink sweater; it’s obvious right away that underneath her schoolgirl facade lurks the heart of a killer. Is the fellow known as The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) the one pulling all the strings? Maybe! Or maybe it could be that one of the other famous faces that pops up along the way will clear up the confusion. Also, there’s a very poisonous snake wriggling around.

What Made an Impression?: For most of Bullet Train‘s path of destruction, I was never really sure what anybody’s mission was. And quite frankly, none of them seemed to either. Sure, there’s a briefcase with plenty of cash that certainly is worth keeping an eye on. But if anything, that’s the reward and not the job itself. Flashbacks pop up to provide backstory, but they don’t fully answer how everyone ended up on the same departure. MINOR SPOILER ALERT: The conclusion spells it all out eventually. But before then, screenwriter Zak Olkewicz and director David Leitch ask for a lot of patience from the audience. Or they request that we just embrace the ambiguity and enjoy Bullet Train as an exercise in frenetic style and a freaky parade of accents.

I at least appreciated how the casting was in part an inversion of this year’s The Lost City, with Pitt and Sandra Bullock switching the roles of bewildered lead and glorified slightly-more-than-a-cameo. And it’s also fun to behold King subsuming herself into the kinda-sorta Big Bad villain role. But in the meantime, questions abound, such as: is that accent real? And also: is that other accent real? And furthermore: why don’t any of the non-criminal passengers seem to notice the gore and bullet holes all over the place? The ending had me going, “Oh wow, that’s what that was all about?” But beforehand, I was somehow against all odds comforted by the steady hand of a cast willing to do everything that was asked of them without any winks to the camera. Vengeance really never turns out how you expect it to go, especially when all the plot twists feel like they were determined by whacking a piñata and throwing what spilled out into a blender.

Bullet Train is Recommended If You Like: The magnetic charm of Brad Pitt, The reveals on The Masked Singer, Derailments

Grade: 3 out of 5 Boomslangs

This Is a Movie Review: Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena Evade an Iraqi Sniper Behind ‘The Wall’

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CREDIT: David James/Amazon Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena 

Director: Doug Liman

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Sniper Bullets Whizzing By and the Expletives You Yell When Blood Mixes with Sand

Release Date: May 12, 2017 (Limited)

The Wall feels like the type of movie that should have been released at the end of the George W. Bush era, as the national tide was becoming significantly less supportive of any Middle East military efforts. But considering that the War on Terror and nation-rebuilding operations tend to have no end in sight, the premise is unfortunately evergreen. It is 2007 in Iraq, Bush has declared victory, and the war is supposedly winding down. American soldiers Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (John Cena) find themselves at the mercy of the deadly Iraqi sniper Juba, with only a makeshift brick wall to serve as protection.

The film mostly consists of a battle of wits between Taylor-Johnson and Juba, who hacks into the Americans’ local radio. Juba is in control of the situation, and he is mostly toying with Isaac until what is almost certainly an inevitable execution, making for essentially the combat version of Phone Booth. Regarding how this plays out as a cinematic thrill ride, there is certainly constant tension, but there is also constant labored breathing from Taylor-Johnson, and that is never the ideal sound mix.

The most universal truths are often best expressed in the most intimate stories, and that micro-macro metonymy is at the forefront of the tightly composed The Wall. Juba somehow knows the most relevant details of Isaac’s story, taunting him about how he just cannot leave a complete mission well enough alone. His personal struggle mirrors his country’s boondoggle. Taylor-Johnson is not the most compelling actor to bring this point across (he excels more in something more depraved like Nocturnal Animals), but a devastating conclusion ensures that The Wall gets its point across. This film is not exactly anti-war, and not even necessarily anti-Iraq War, but rightness or wrongness does not account for much when all you stand for and behind is crumbling around you. 

The Wall is Recommended If You Like: Lone Survivor, Phone Booth, the ending of Night of the Living Dead

Grade: 3 out of 5 Poetic Snipers