El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, 2019.
Written and directed by Vince Gilligan.
Starring Aaron Paul, Charles Baker, Matt Jones, and Jonathan Banks.
After escaping Jack and his gang, Jesse Pinkman goes on the run from the police and tries to escape his own inner turmoil.
When Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan first announced a follow-up movie to his hit TV series, the ecstatic excitement was tempered ever-so-slightly by the project’s dubious necessity. After all, the show’s final episode provided a fitting capper to five seasons of landmark small-screen entertainment, and unlike the vital recent Deadwood: The Movie, there was never the feeling that fans had been cheated out of a complete story in the original go-around.
But El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie re-affirms Gilligan’s penchant for smart, shrewd storytelling, scaling-down the narrative scope and giving fans a slow-burn send-off for the series’ last cook standing, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
Much of the film’s plot is simply too spoilerific to divulge, but it picks up immediately after we last saw Jesse speeding angrily into the night following his liberation at the hands of Walter White, and sees him desperately trying to escape for good. The 122-minute runtime tidily alternates between Jesse’s present struggle and cannily-selected flashbacks, allowing several dead and otherwise departed characters to return for crowd-pleasing – yet not excessively fan-serving – cameos.
There may be those beguiled by Gilligan’s choice of style and pace here, opting not to squeeze a season’s worth of TV into a mere two hours, but rather take his time telling a snappy, straight-forward story of one man trying to slip out of a fast-closing net. Almost every scene in the film’s first half is a casually paced conversation, evoking the laid-back mood of a western at times, aided entirely by the beautifully-lensed New Mexico landscapes, which look especially gorgeous in 4K HDR.
Only at the mid-point does Gilligan begin to turn the screws and ratchet up the suspense through a number of agonisingly tense, drawn-out set-pieces. But even when gunfire breaks out, there’s nothing anywhere close to the near-silly theatrics of Walter White mowing down a fleet of neo-Nazis with a car-mounted machine gun. Jesse’s various scrapes and showdowns are simply staged, rough and messy for the part.
El Camino‘s biggest achievement, unsurprisingly, is in giving fans an extended farewell to Jesse that also deeps the audience’s ability to relate to him. If the writing makes a strong effort to convey Jeese’s post-rescue PTSD while filling in some of his personal blanks, it’s Paul’s sympathetic, rattled performance which truly sells it. If there was any concern that he wouldn’t be able to hold the screen without an acting lion like Bryan Cranston by his side, his outstanding performance categorically rubbishes that.
And while most of the film’s supporting cast can’t even be discussed for fear of spoilers, know that Gilligan sensibly keeps most of the marquee talent to minimal, often single-scene roles, and some don’t even appear at all. Fans will have to accept, however, that the most prominently featured former cast member looks decidedly different from the TV series, despite their scenes taking place within that prior block of time. But the dramatic juice this character – and the actor’s performance – provides the film is well worth this inconsistency.
It’s probably not much of a spoiler at this point to say that Robert Forster, who played “disappearer” Ed Galbraith in the fifth season, is back for a brief-but-brilliant role, lent all the more poignance by his tragic passing the very day the movie was released. It’s not a sentimental affectation to say that Forster gives his fans a remarkable, scene-stealing final turn here.
Though some may come to El Camino expecting two wall-to-wall hours of incident and fan service, Gilligan knows better than to give his show a pandering groaner of a post-script, deferring instead to a stripped-down, character-driven chamber piece intently focused on our protagonist, with occasional spicings of action and high-drama.
It isn’t a movie that needed to happen, and some fans may even see the end result as more of an obvious formality than a surprising piece of entertainment. As such, it’s perhaps best approached as a garnish to the hearty meal that was the show’s initial 62 episodes.
Vince Gilligan resists the urge to double down on fan service and excess sentimentality, favouring a low-key, brilliantly acted epilogue to his hit series.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.