BREAKING BAD: EL CAMINO
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Review
Will there be justice for Jesse Pinkman in El Camino?
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By David Griffin
Posted: 11 Oct 2019 2:00 pm
Warning! Some minor spoilers from the movie are mentioned in the review below.
Back in 2013, Breaking Bad’s seminal five-season run ended with an ideal send-off for one of TV’s most iconic characters — Bryan Cranston’s Walter “Heisenberg” White. During the series finale “Felina,” Walter was able to say his goodbyes and make amends, but what about his ex drug-dealing companion Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who was last seen speeding down a dirt road on his way to freedom? Where is his swan song? El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is the first (and probably last) entry in the Methamphetamine Cinematic Universe that attempts to answer that particular question. It appears that the what-happened-to-Jesse scenario is a creative itch Breaking Bad creator and El Camino writer-director Vince Gilligan had to scratch… And we’re sure glad he did.
The film is a skillfully written thriller centering on Jesse’s narrative shortly after he escapes from the Neo-Nazis’ meth facility. Six years may have passed since Paul stepped into Pinkman’s shoes, but the actor has lost none of his on-screen potency and delivers one of the best performances of his career. This is the most emotionally distraught version of Jesse we’ve seen, as he struggles to cope with the guilt of his past life and the PTSD brought on by his imprisonment. Gilligan’s use of flashbacks throughout the film is an effective way to showcase Jesse’s transformation from (sort of) goodhearted criminal to reluctant killer.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to say that El Camino has Breaking Bad cameos sprinkled throughout its two-hour runtime. Thankfully, each familiar face is well earned and necessary to effectively advance Jesse’s story. And while it’s nice to see these familiar faces, Gilligan never uses them as a “Hey, remember that guy” crutch. One villainous character from the original series, in particular, reveals their depravity in a memorable sequence that’s both unsettling and surprisingly funny.
Breaking Bad Cast and Crew Reunites at El Camino Screening
The one drawback to the cameos can be squarely put on Father Time. Because the series ended six years ago and these actors are portraying their respective characters as if no time has passed, their physical appearance can be a bit distracting. Gilligan could have used some kind of digital de-aging technique that would look silly in Breaking Bad’s grounded world, but it is sometimes difficult to ignore the very noticeable differences.
Both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have already established themselves as visually striking small-screen productions, complete with stellar directing and gorgeous cinematography, so Gilligan’s move from the small screen to the movie theater (El Camino will have a limited theatrical run in addition to streaming on Netflix) doesn’t change Breaking Bad’s aesthetic all that much… Which is a good thing. (If it ain’t broke…)
With Jesse on the run from the law after the Season 5 finale bloodbath, Gilligan keeps the camera and characters in confined spaces: houses, crammed in between a wall and a mattress, and ducking down in cars. This directorial choice adds an appropriate amount of tension, giving the viewer a sense of what it must feel like for Jesse as the walls close in around him.
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The action sequences, though sparse, are entertaining once the bullets start to fly. And while no one is likely to confuse Jesse with James Bond, it’s exciting to see how well he handles stressful situations now, especially when he’s outmanned and outgunned. Alongside Gilligan’s engaging script, Breaking Bad alum Dave Porter’s score is another highlight of the film. Whenever Jesse’s in a tense situation, the percussion/EDM beats are amplified, adding to the already strenuous atmosphere.
Breaking Bad cinematographer Marshall Adams also returns to aid Gilligan in his ambitious endeavor. Gilligan and his team have never been afraid to take creative chances when it comes to their camera techniques, like Season 4’s famous shovel-cam POV scene in “Cornered.” El Camino wisely taps into this tradition with some cool shots like a bird’s-eye view of an apartment involving several moving pieces. When the frenetic pacing does slow down a bit, the camera pulls back to reveal some beautiful wide shots featuring New Mexico’s stark landscape.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie gives Jesse Pinkman the swan song he deserves, with a compelling two-hour story that brings us back into the high-stakes world of drugs and thrilling shootouts. Writer-director Vince Gilligan’s memorable script explores Jesse’s profound transformation with the use of well-placed flashbacks and cameos that don’t feel forced for the sake of fan service. Aaron Paul delivers one of the best performances of his career, which should keep Breaking Bad’s well-earned reputation as a television phenomenon alive and well for years to come.