Bullet Train (2022) is a wild ride from start to finish, with plenty of plot twists and great fight scenes that keep your eyes glued to the screen. But, it isn’t just the action that holds your attention, it’s how the story unfolds and how unique characters interact with each other.
Have you ever watched a B movie, and immediately notice that the actors seem to be portraying stereotypes, rather than real human beings? It could be the dialogue is so poorly written, that the actors don’t have much to work with. On the other hand, even if the story is based on great source material, if the actors lack talent or experience, they might still sound like the after-hour voice recording for a drug store, “If you’d like to use our automated prescription service….” Fortunately, in Bullet Train, screenwriter Zak Olkewicz had great material to adapt, there were experienced actors who could bring the characters to life, and Director David Leitch knows how to film a great action scene.
One of the characters introduced in Kotaro Isaka’s novel Bullet Train is Prince, a malevolent teenager who manipulates schoolmates and adults, enjoying their suffering. Joey King’s portrayal is spot-on, as she effortlessly switches from the heartless vixen, to the scared, vulnerable adolescent, influencing the actions of other passengers.
Lemon is an assassin, and what makes his character memorable are his constant referrals to the the children’s series, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (1984-2021). The sharp contrast between the brutal killer and the childlike obsession makes him seem like a real person, because he doesn’t fit a particular stereotype. The same technique was used with the character Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix (2007.) Delores Umbridge always wears pink, and her office walls are lined with images of kittens, yet she’s a cruel, pitiless tyrant.
And then there’s Ladybug, the main character portrayed by Brad Pitt. It’s easy to relate to Ladybug, because he seems to be plagued by bad luck. We’ve all had days when we can’t seem to get anything right. Just imagine having a day like that, but you’re on a train with a group of assassins, and just one wrong move could cost you your life.
Why is Bullet Train a great movie? It begins with Kotaro Isaka’s brilliant novel, introducing interesting characters and a unique setting. In the screenplay, Zak Olkewicz tightens the plot, and eliminates unnecessary characters. Director David Leitch finds just the right balance between action and story, accentuating the dark humour. And finally, the actors bring the characters to life. If you can’t leave your seat, because want to know what happens next to the characters, then the filmmakers have been successful.
P.S. I continue to celebrate small wins. I had an article, “Taking A Shot At Unscripted Television,” published in the July-September 2022 issue of Westword, the Magazine of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.
Copyright © 2022 by J. Paul Cooper