Bullet Train director unpacks Brad Pitt's assassin: 'He's cursed, or he thinks he is'
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David Leitch, the stuntman-turned-director behind Atomic Blonde and Hobbs & Shaw, is fresh off an appearance at CinemaCon and he can't contain his elation. You can practically hear the grin that pricks up on his face as he speaks over the phone a day after showcasing his latest action epic Bullet Train at the Las Vegas convention for theater owners.
"The response was really amazing and makes us feel good," Leitch, 46, says, having screened the 15-minute opening sequence to his film about seven assassins thrust together on the same high-speed train. "It felt like people were understanding the movie we set out to make, and that's exciting."
So what is the film that Leitch, known for juicing up Hollywood action blockbusters, set out to make? After the harsh start to the COVID-19 pandemic, he wanted only one thing: "something worthy to go back to the movies for."
Bullet Train, based on the international best-seller Maria Beetle by Japanese author Kotaro Isaka, is the kind of summer popcorn movie that knows it's a summer popcorn movie. But because it's Leitch at the helm, the action is sharp, slick, dynamic, and — aligning with Leitch's ethos as a filmmaker — always advancing the story.
Brad Pitt stars in the film, in theaters August 5, as one of the assassins, codenamed Ladybug. His handler, played by Sandra Bullock, tasks him with swiping a mysterious briefcase that's currently traveling on a Japanese bullet train. Unbeknownst to Ladybug, the case is in the possession of two other hitmen, Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who are guarding their mark (Logan Lerman) in transit after saving him from dangerous individuals. Get on, grab the case, get off. That's the job. But things almost immediately go south for Ladybug when he's spotted by, yes, another killer: a man in a white blazer called Wolf (Bad Bunny), who, for his own reasons, is out for Ladybug's blood.
"The movie, in a sense, is a meditation on fate, things you can't control, and how you impact somebody's life halfway around the world and you don't even realize it," Leitch says. "All of these crazy characters" — and the ones mentioned aren't even all of them — "are connected in ways they don't really understand yet. It all comes to fruition in the end."
Leitch defines the characters of Bullet Train through the tools they use. Take Pitt's Ladybug, seen in EW's exclusive new photo from the film. He's the gun-shiest of all the gunslingers. He used to be very good at his job, but when he's involved on a mission, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. As Leitch puts it, "The Ladybug character is cursed, or he thinks he is." Now he's a reformed assassin, thanks to his life coach.
Cut to Wolf's surprise attack. Without a gun, Ladybug turns the briefcase itself into his chief defensive weapon. "Even though he does not want to fight, when he does fight, he can use anything around him to be formidable," Leitch explains. "The briefcase was what we had at that moment. He would never want to let it go. This is his mission. We want to show technical skill even though he's sort of this comedic character, and then all of those ideas get infused into the choreography."
And that's just the opening action sequence. Much like the titular bullet train, the film builds momentum as it speeds toward its narrative destination, one that also involves figures played by Joey King, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Andrew Koji, and Karen Fukuhara. Ultimately, Bullet Train is "supposed to be fun and it's supposed to make you laugh and it's supposed to keep you guessing," Leitch says. "It's just a big summer popcorn movie that doesn't take itself too seriously."
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