“Bullet Train” is the Pinnacle of Contained Storytelling

"Tokyo - Bullet Train" by roger4336 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

In a world of movies that strive to be a part of a greater cinematic experience, “Bullet Train” stands out as a self-contained experience that’s meant to be enjoyed at the surface level. It takes place entirely on a bullet train in Japan, featuring killers of various backgrounds all gathered on the train for one reason or another.

Brad Pitt headlines the film as Ladybug, a former paid assassin who claims that his anger management trips have given him a new outlook on life. His goal is simple: to retrieve a briefcase somewhere on the train. Predictably, it doesn’t end up being that simple when he finds himself surrounded by a group of other violent individuals who have their own clashing motives. Joey King plays “the Prince,” a young woman with an innocent façade that betrays a sense of ruthlessness. Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play twins Lemon and Tangerine, professional killers whose job is to escort the briefcase as well as the son of the White Death, supposedly the most brutal crime boss in all of Japan.

Everything leads back to the White Death. In one way or another, every character has mysterious ties that led them to this train through him. That connection makes the film-watching experience an absolute treat, with the audience trying to piece together why everyone is where they are as the overarching plot is slowly revealed to us. What starts off as a small-scale action film quickly turns into something so much bigger as more characters introduce themselves to the plot and further muddy the waters. Each character is eccentric and interesting, allowing the dialogue to do the carrying where the choreography cannot.

The “Bullet Train” experience feels incredibly reminiscent of the nonsensical storytelling seen in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” The influence pays off, as the constant progression of the plot gives the film a thrill that lasts until the end credits. No screen time is wasted, and it’s surprising how often seemingly minor details can come back and make a big impact.

Despite the notably large brand Pitt’s name carries, it’s really Lemon and Tangerine who stand out above all else. Their familial dynamic is a treat to watch, especially as the stakes ramp up and the two have to make progressively more desperate decisions. As they remain at the forefront of the plot, their synergy as actors and brotherly bond as characters are a rare constant in a continually changing storyline. Subsequently, as the intensity progresses further and further, they reach emotional depths in an otherwise senseless action film.

“Bullet Train” isn’t a movie for critics. It’s not a cinematic masterpiece or anything of the sort. But it’s a fun and unique experience that I can’t remember feeling in recent years. It’s funny when it wants to be, and the choreography is expertly done. The vibrant characters, excellent soundtrack and “Thomas the Tank Engine” parallels make it an unforgettable movie.