Glittering lights bounce off a train car, making the bodywork glow rhythmically between tunnels. On the soundtrack, the Japanese version of “Stayin’ Alive” reinforces the party atmosphere and packs the jets of blood that squirt from the characters, while guns and knives dance through the air. This chaotic energy guides the passengers’ journey in “Bullet Train”, a film that is now in theaters.
Everything about this action-packed, no-frills choreography is affected. The neon colors and the unstoppable scenery – a high-speed train that connects Tokyo to Kyoto – leave David Leitch’s film frantic, and the viewer, without stopping to breathe.
An adaptation of the book of the same name by the Japanese author Kotaro Isaka, “Bullet Train” follows a group of assassins who board the same train. They don’t know it, but the missions that led them to that railroad are intertwined, so each is inadvertently in the other’s path.
“The train is very important to this story, because when we board one, we trust that it will take us to our destination. On the way there are stops, people who get on and off, of all kinds. destination, but with the journey,” says “Eternals” actor Brian Tyree Henry. “The difference with our movie is that we imagined what it would be like with a bunch of sociopaths on board – and the journey remains fun.”
Tyree Henry plays one of the assassins, a geek in the cartoon “Thomas and Friends,” about a traveling locomotive that delivers life lessons. The constant mentions of the series hide his outfit, which he shares with what would be his twin brother, played by Aaron Taylor Johnson – and that’s where some of the script’s jokes begin, since one is black and the other, white.
Actors Michael Shannon, Sandra Bullock, Logan Lerman, Joey King and Zazie Beetz also received tickets for the train, in a cast headed by Brad Pitt. In the feature, he resumes his partnership with director David Leitch, albeit in an unprecedented context – in the 1990s and 2000s, they worked together on several projects, but in an actor-stunt relationship.
Leitch impersonated Pitt in action scenes in movies like “Fight Club”. It was in the role of stuntman and, later, coordinator of the area that the American established himself in Hollywood, before directing films such as “Atomica”, “Deadpool 2”, “Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw” and, now, “Train- Bullet” — all with lots of action, as if he made a point of bringing his past as a stuntman to his present as a filmmaker.
“It was fun to create this new dynamic of working with him and also very special, because we are friends, we have a whole history. As a stuntman, you help the actor to build the character. Now, we did it again, but in a different kind of way. partnership, which is like closing a cycle”, says Leitch.
Actor and filmmaker are now two of the leading voices in Hollywood advocating that the industry give more recognition to the stunt departments, essential for action-packed films like “Bullet Train” but also for many intimate dramas. One of the main demands of the movement is that the Oscars create a category dedicated to the area.
“It’s not fair that on the night when everyone gets together to celebrate cinema, when everyone who contributes to a movie being made is recognized, a single department is left out,” says Leitch, who believes his new feature would not be the same without a first-rate stunt team.
Even cute, the story about the filmmaker’s reunion with Brad Pitt was not well received by everyone. “Bullet Train” has been accused of “whitewashing”, an English term used when someone tries to “whiten” a story. In this case, the Sony studio preferred to cast Western actors, like Pitt, instead of Eastern ones, as in Kotaro Isaka’s original story.
The author himself, however, came out in defense of the film, stating that the choice makes sense for his work to travel beyond Japan, so that it dialogues better with other audiences. The explanation is repeated by Leitch, who arrived at the project when the decision to westernize the characters had already been made. He stresses that its cast is diverse and inclusive, with black characters, the Latin singer Bad Bunny and, also, a Japanese part, in the figures of Hiroyuki Sanada, Andrew Koji and Karen Fukuhara.
But Brad Pitt, white and blond, is the true face of “Bullet Train” and, although the representative speech is noble, it sounds disconnected in an industry that has shown efforts with regard to women, blacks and the LGBTQIA + population, but that still struggles when it comes to putting Asian talent on screen. Now that a story set in Japan is finally getting a hefty budget from a major studio, much of the money has been diverted from this group.
At least the train route that gives the film its name has not changed. It was important, says the filmmaker, to maintain the setting of the story in Japan. To give it the psychedelic, fanciful tone he wanted, Leitch drew inspiration from manga and other country drawings in order to create what he calls “a non-real reality” as an alternate version of our world.
The train seen in the scene is scenographic, but the landscapes that cut through its windows came from real recordings of the Tokyo-Kyoto journey, which passed through the special effects room to gain a dreamlike tone and stronger colors.
This flirtation with anime reminds us of “Kill Bill”, in which Quentin Tarantino also assimilated Japanese influences to narrate a story that spurted blood. The violent blows delivered by Pitt and the rest of the cast, as well as the noisy and sometimes nonsensical deaths, are interspersed with acid humor and an unmistakable soundtrack, transforming “Bullet Train” into a trip that doesn’t seem to have a certain destination.