Review: El Camino
I would argue that Breaking Bad is some of the greatest television we shall ever see past, present or future. Many would agree with me and argue that the television show, for the most part, is an ingenious display of Vince Gilligan’s adversity in the face of pressure to bring a new show that not many people had much confidence in to life. El Camino looks to follow one of the greatest shows in modern history, and from there it is already doomed to fail. Or is it? As Gilligan, Aaron Paul and others return for one last look at the Breaking Bad series.
Bringing us right into the fallout of the finale episode of Breaking bad, this Netflix original looks to give closure to Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul. Set immediately after his escape, the film follows Pinkman try and secure enough funds to hightail it out of New Mexico and into the bright horizons of a fresh start. The new, fractured Jesse is a great display of acting abilities on the part of Aaron Paul. He plays a PTSD riddled Pinkman, a man looking for closure and rebirth after the ending of the Breaking Bad series. It’s an incredible performance; it’s the best of his career.
There are nice nods to Breaking Bad throughout, as you’d probably have guessed. Some are bolder than other references, with a handful nicely nuanced for the uber fans of the Cranston led television show. Throwing Paul into the leading limelight is a nice choice, he plays well with cast members new and old, providing us more or less a tour of the post-Walter White world. It’s not just Paul that gets to shine though, with Jesse Plemons joining us for a great deal of the film in El Camino’s durable and frequent flashback sequences. These flashbacks, although lengthy, work well in setting the pace and general feel of the movie’s present-day actions. Sometimes they’re seamlessly clicked in place together, other times they’re more to jog the memory and pad out the running time than anything else.
Revisiting the sights and characters that littered the original series is great, with supporting or guest stars from the show receiving meatier and more important roles throughout the series. Perhaps the biggest issue here though is that we have to rely on the frequent visits to the past, and although its’ a great treat to see all these, they do detract somewhat from the core of the story. Pinkman’s redemption, his own finale after we wrapped up Walter White in Felina, the show’s final episode. For those unsatisfied with ambiguity, El Camino wraps up the story nicely.
It’s nice to see that director and writer Vince Gilligan hasn’t shied away from the hard-hitting fan theories. Whether he agrees or disagrees with them, El Camino is very nicely written to rebuke or reaffirm several big stories, some of the greatest lingering questions of the show are answered, while others still remain completely in the dark. This balance is great, Gilligan takes away somewhat from what fans can assume, but provides enough new source material to give them something new to talk about entirely. He brings some great and innovative pieces of direction, specific scenes that reimagine our storytelling experience. Jesse searching through an apartment in particular, paired nicely with some techno beats is a great experience, however brief it may seem. It is scenes like that which provide us with the thrills, the battered highs that this greatly written character presents us.
Gilligan’s blending of an upbeat soundtrack with arduous and often unsettling imagery is a testament to his style of direction, one that I find thoroughly enjoyable. His writing and direction go hand in hand here, with El Camino’s greatest strength being scenes that perfectly capture the feeling of the show, or at least replicate it near enough to the letter. There are even a few nice references to Better Call Saul slung into the movie, but for those that have yet to watch the series, they are thankfully not crucial to your understanding of the film.
El Camino might be one of the best films to come out of this year, and however strange that may sound, is completely true. It may have a handful of glimmering issues that echo throughout a stringent running time, but for the most part it is as engaging and thoroughly touching as the television show was. It’s rare that film adaptations of television make such anywhere near as big an impact as the show, but Aaron Paul, Vince Gilligan and everyone else present give it their absolute all in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.