Skip to main content

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
(2019)

(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besides Breaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

And maybe there’s a bit of fear in there too. I doubt anyone stipulated that, if he was returning to the well, Walter White had to be in there – I mean, this is Netflix, laissez-faire is how it is, until they cancel you – but he includes a flashback nevertheless, in a movie that is so predicated on the same, it barely has a chance to breathe or find anything approaching an identity of its own. These are the things you loved about the series, Gilligan seems to be saying. Oh, and here’s a bone of some other stuff that’s happened to Jesse since. Which is basically his escape to Alaska. I think I’d rather have re-joined him somewhere down the line, rather than Gilligan meticulously documenting the hours and days subsequent to his taking off. But that’s what we’ve got, so…

Jesse’s quest to secure some escape money requires Gilligan to fashion a backstory showing where Todd (Jesse Plemons) stashed his cash. At least, before he stashed it somewhere else. If this is slightly inelegant – Gilligan isn’t able to pull existing threads from the original but has to weave in new ones – if feels less so because he does create a series of engrossing scenarios. While on the one hand you have the return of Robert Forster (RIP) as a character he played right near the end of the series’ run, a fugitive relocation specialist, you also have Gilligan coming up with two new characters (the always great Scott Shepherd as Casey and Scott MacArthur as Neil), who require a flashback to establish that Jesse has previously met them. Again, it isn’t the most elegant of manoeuvres.

The Neil and Casey plotline nevertheless provides the dramatic meat of El Camino, including a fine sustained sequence in which Jesse first breaks into Todd’s apartment and spends the night searching for his money; when he finally finds it, he’s inevitably interrupted, by the duo posing as cops. The following confrontation allows that Jesse is still something of a resourceful idiot, failing to recognise them as impostors, but then compelled to revisit them to ask of them the shortfall he needs for Forster to deliver him from peril. The subsequent “hero” scene has Jesse despatch both antagonists in a duel, providing a highly unlikely – on all sides of the equation – if satisfyingly cathartic resolution to his trials.

Flashbacks wise, we naturally get all the favourites – Krysten Ritter, Jonathan Banks, Bryan Cranston in a rather obvious bald wig – but such fan-service feels inessential in all cases, and while they’re nice enough to see, they’re ultimately a disservice to Jesse’s tale, even cumulatively suggesting Gilligan might be concerned that Paul can’t carry the story himself. Which he more than can. I don’t think Paul is necessarily a great all-rounder – of the various sore thumbs in Exodus: Gods and Kings, he stuck out by far the most – but in a role like this, he’s riveting. The flashback scenes that work best are all ones between Jesse and Todd, showcasing the captive, oppressed Pinkman; Paul gets to follow this up with convincingly disoriented PTSD. And as a director, Gilligan is particularly assured in characterising his protagonist’s mental state, while in general embracing the opportunity to go more cinematic.

Gilligan leaves Jesse much where he left him before: free. More emphatically so, perhaps, but enough to justify El Camino? I’d say probably not. He hasn’t convinced me he really needed to tell this story, and the dominance of flashbacks serve to underline that. As for further revisits? It might be inherent to the character that he needs a foil, or to be a foil, in which case Gilligan would really need a proper idea. But then, if he has a proper idea, it should really be in the service of a whole new original series (or film).


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.