“Bullet Train,” “Thirteen Lives” and “Samaritan” 

Credit: Sony Pictures. https://www.bullettrainmovie.com/home/

This month’s movie reviews of Bullet Train, Thirteen Lives and Samaritan.

If you’re looking for a reason to escape the heat during the dog days of summer…well, you might have missed the boat, since it’s been too darn hot all over. However, Bullet Train is a pretty good way to kill a few hours, while watching a lot of characters get spectacularly killed. Brad Pitt is an unlucky assassin seeking a Zen state and a bit of a break from the grind. (What assassin doesn’t?) He is convinced to take on an “easy” gig that involves boarding a train, retrieving a briefcase, and leaving the train. Only it’s not as easy as it seems, since the briefcase is also sought by various assassins, crime kingpins, vengeance-seekers, all of whom (along with the proverbial fates) conspire to keep Pitt on that train far longer than he would like.

Directed by David Leitch with a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz (from a novel by Kotaro Isaka), Bullet Train benefits enormously from an engaging turn from Pitt as the would-be spiritual, non-gun-toting assassin, occasionally naïve assassin. (One of the film’s pleasures is his constant phone chats with his handler, played by a largely unseen Sandra Bullock.) He is matched by Brian Tyree-Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as twin assassins Lemon and Tangerine, whose brotherly love does not preclude them from racking up an enormous body count on their own (as depicted in one of the better flashbacks—accompanied by the song stylings of Engelbert Humperdinck). There are some clever (and a few not-so-clever) twists, some well-mounted action scenes that are both exciting and laced with humor—partly from Pitt’s incredulous reactions; on the flip side, there are one or two flashbacks too many, which not only halt the action with some superfluous information but disrupt the film’s momentum—and on a Bullet Train one needs all the momentum one can get to avoid thinking too hard about what’s playing out. Still, there are many pleasures to be had on the journey and a few amusing cameo turns. If it’s still in your area, it’s worth seeing on a big screen.

(L to R) Thira ‘Aum’ Chutikul as Commander Kiet, Popetorn ‘Two’ Soonthornyanaku as Dr Karn, Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, Colin Farrell as John Volanthen and Viggo Mortenson as Rick Stanton in THIRTEEN LIVES, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

I would say the same about Thirteen Lives, Ron Howard’s new film about the 2018 rescue of twelve boys and their coach from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand—only the film had only a token release before streaming on Amazon. The film shows the boys (members of a junior football team) heading into the cave, along with their coach, and subsequently being trapped deep in the cave after heavy rainfalls block their way out. Interestingly, once the boys are trapped, the film becomes more about the efforts (coordinated and otherwise) to rescue them—and the plight of the boys’ families as they wait for word and push for results. Complicating matters is a robust and threatening rainy season, the lack of any kind of plan that would guarantee the boys’ survival, and finally, the possibility that ensuring the success of the rescue might result in the flooding of the Thai farmers’ land.

If you research Thirteen Lives (and the rescue), you will doubtless learn about the travails faced by the filmmakers trying to get the story told in the face of all kinds of logistical (and legal and medical) impediments. What is depicted on screen is a very effective recreation of the events that not only depicts the realistic heroism of the rescue team (effectively led by experienced “old guys” Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortensen) but the culture and conflicts of the Thai people, from the farmers to the mothers to the civil servants. The scenes of the rescue, which involve sustained underwater swimming and some “medical assistance’ also prove to be riveting and suspenseful—even if one knows the results. With a screenplay by William Nicholson that strives to be both respectful and incisive, Thirteen Lives is one of Ron Howard’s better recent efforts and deserves an audience.

Credit: Amazon Studios. https://press.amazonstudios.com/us/en/original-movies/samaritan

Also on Amazon is Sylvester Stallone’s latest effort, Samaritan. (Don’t despair if you’re waiting for Expendables 4, it’s on the way.) In this gritty urban landscape, Stallone is another “old guy” quietly living his life, until he helps out a young boy, who is then convinced that the curmudgeonly Stallone is the superhero Samaritan, who died in a fiery inferno (as if there were another kind). Stallone maintains he is not…as he continues to do some “Samaritan-like” things, which include helping the boy’s mother, as well as taking on a would-be evil mastermind and his intellectually limited henchmen. The film is being hammered by the critics, but it’s actually a decent, well-paced “B” movie with some good action and a quietly effective performance from Stallone.