El Camino movie review: Aaron Paul, Netflix cement Breaking Bad as greatest show of all time

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Director – Vince Gilligan
Cast – Aaron Paul, Charles Baker, Matt Jones

Playing out like a two-hour-long post-credits scene, El Camino is an unexpected but not entirely unnecessary new chapter in the Breaking Bad saga.

There was no need to revisit the show — we’re talking about perfection here — but like a complimentary dessert after an excellent meal, El Camino isn’t something that you wave off. You either consume it instantly, or save it for later. And then you change your mind and stuff it down your throat anyway, spoilt senseless as you are by streaming services.

Watch the El Camino trailer here 

Netflix played this one very close to the chest though, going to Avengers: Endgame levels to keep the plot a secret in the trailers, and not providing any preview screeners to the press. Inadvertently, the agony of waiting for El Camino to be released, and then delicately avoiding spoilers online transported me back to the years leading up to 2013, to the stressful weeklong intervals between episodes of Breaking Bad.

Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. I cheered audibly when Jesse Pinkman delivered his catchphrase, deep into act three, and also when a couple of familiar faces popped up. Considering that the film is geared towards hardcore fans of the show, it is unlikely that viewers will be dissatisfied with what they see.

El Camino is a grim movie, as emotionally barren as the Albuquerque landscapes that it so luxuriously smears on the screen when the mood strikes. It is about the corrosion of one man’s psyche, and the eventual rebirth of his soul. And Aaron Paul is quite stunning in the role, simmering with intensity, and damaged, perhaps beyond repair. There is a dangerous ferocity in his eyes, which erupts only on a couple of occasions, but serves as a potent reminder of the psychological assault that his association with Walter White had on him.

It is unfortunate then that El Camino exerts so much effort in convincing us that it is providing some sort of closure. It does this by snatching away the satisfaction of the series finale, and by altering it forever by suggesting that the story was incomplete all along.

It picks up mere moments after the final credits rolled in Felina, with a close-up of Jesse’s bearded face as he tearfully drives away from a massacre. But physical liberation means diddly squat to Jesse Pinkman; he remains trapped in the confines of his own mind, traumatised by the torture he’d been subjected to by the white supremacists led by Uncle Jack.

Chased by the police and with nowhere to go, Jesse, who together with Walter White established the largest meth empire in the history of the United States, turns to his old friends Badger and Skinny Pete for help.

Writer-director Vince Gilligan has written a script that feels lean, but never thin. Some of the best Breaking Bad episodes, as you’d remember, had one-line set-ups. He fleshes out El Camino by peppering Jesse’s story with flashbacks. While the main narrative unfolds more like a series of immaculately written interconnected scenes, the flashbacks add a much needed emotional heft to the story, as Jesse recalls encounters that have shaped him as a man.

A longish sequence around midway through the film, set in an abandoned house, instantly brings to mind the unique tone that Gilligan brought to Breaking Bad — at once sinister and suspenseful, filled with dread and dark humour. While silence can often be the source of discomfort for others, it is where Gilligan thrives.

One of the coolest things about the show was how every moment seemed to have a purpose; not a single second was wasted. The storytelling in El Camino feels equally measured, as if Gilligan wrote the script with one finger on the audience’s pulse.

There is a distinct Coen Brothers quality to some scenes in El Camino; especially when Gilligan fully embraces the Neo-western elements of the story. You’d be reminded of films such as No Country for Old Men, and a couple of chapters from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Gilligan’s sparse direction certainly lends itself to the pacey plot, which takes pit stops only to provide fan service.

El Camino is the latest in a spate of feature films based on popular television shows. Only recently, Netflix released Bandersnatch, an interactive movie set in the Black Mirror universe. A few months later, HBO offered a similar postscript to the hastily cancelled classic, Deadwood. And as wonderful as it was to return to the world of Breaking Bad (again, because Better Call Saul is still running), it is now about time that Gilligan put his incredible talents into creating something new. He is Vince Gilligan, the Tolstoy of TV! Hopefully this reminds him that he is the one who knocks.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

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