Review – El Camino
Vince Gilligan takes us back to the Breaking Bad universe for this enjoyable enough, albeit slightly pointless ‘straight to Netflix’ movie.
Firstly, if you didn’t watch the smash TV series Breaking Bad then read no more and equally don’t watch this film. It offers nothing to a new viewer that will make any real sense and it’s main strength is a nostalgic revisit to the series. Move on, and furthermore, I’m probably going to ruin the end of the TV series here for you so please don’t read any further.
If you however, have seen the TV show, you’ll know that we left Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) fleeing a compound where he had been held prisoner in order to forever ‘bake’ his and Walter White / Heinsenberg’s (Bryan Cranston) famous blue meth recipe. As he flees the location, driving off in an El Camino, with his future left as a mystery.
Gilligan’s film then (he both writes and directs), offers a ‘what happened next’ view of the story. Picking directly from the show’s 2013 finale, we are back with Jesse and follow him as he attempts to secure himself a future, whilst offering flashbacks that both offer context for his current actions, but also further glimpses into him as a character. As he attempts to flee, he has interactions with a number of previous characters, including the late Robert Forster in what was his last film role (El Camino was released the day that he passed away).
Much like the series, it creates tension from little and Gilligan’s ability to bring this universe to life though relatively basic set pieces remains clear. Returning to a TV series and character like this is a dangerous sport, and if the real risk was in someway diminishing the canon that already exists, then the film easily avoids this.
Aaron Paul’s performance feels better than anything we saw in the TV series, but in fairness, that may be a skewed view of the history as I didn’t re-watch the series in the build up to this. It certainly feels like his best movie performance to date as well.
Ultimately the film offers Jesse a chance to exist out of Walter White’s narrative, this is his tale rather than seeing his situation as an element of our study of Cranston’s most famous character. That is El Camino’s real offer – an enjoyable enough ride, but if I’m completely honest, I’m not really sure what the real point of it is. Narrative wise, by the end of the film, I’d argue that not a huge amount has really changed.
I suspect that this will be the last that we see of this world – but I also thought that before this film, and before the spin-off TV show Better Call Saul.