2010s, 3/4, Drama, Review, Vince Gilligan

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Image result for el camino poster banner

This movie was pretty obviously made by someone much more comfortable with the storytelling mechanics of serialized television than a feature film. It’s essentially broken into three parts (one might call them acts, but they’d be a bit incorrect) that feel like individual episodes of a three part television event made almost a decade after the original television show aired.

Jesse Pinkman has escaped his captivity of making crystal meth for skinheads by the gracious hand of all around hero Walter White, but he’s a penniless guy who’s been removed from society for months and is wanted by the police. Not wanting to be captured by the police, but to live his life free, Jesse runs to his friends Badger and Skinny Pete who give him a grounding from which to operate.

The first part of the film is Jesse re-entering the world and finding his feet while dealing with the most immediate results of his trauma. He has trouble with enclosed spaces and showers because of memories of his prison, but those memories provide a clue as to where Jesse could find some seed money. After Badger and Skinny Pete give Jesse a head start by taking his tracked car in a different direction, Jesse is free to operate incognito in Albuquerque, setting up the second part.

That section largely takes place in Todd’s apartment. Todd was one of the lower level skinheads who was directed with taking charge of Jesse’s health and work output. One afternoon, Todd took Jesse from his prison in the desert to Todd’s apartment where he had Jesse help him with the disposal of his maid’s body. He had killed her after she had accidentally found his stash of cash hidden in some encyclopedias. Todd also dropped a hint that the cash was going to move, but stay in the apartment. With Todd dead and Jesse free and in possession of Todd’s keys, Jesse heads to Todd’s apartment and begins a search. Just as he finds the cash, two guys in Police jackets show up, forcing a wonderfully tense extended sequence that ends with Jesse splitting the hidden cash three ways.

The third section brings back Robert Forster’s mysterious vacuum cleaner character who runs a business that gets those who want to run away far from Albuquerque. Jesse goes to him, $1,800 short of the list price for Forster’s services, and Jesse needs to find some extra money. He finds the fake police officers he had split the money with, gets into a shooting match with one of them and takes a second third of the cash (in another wonderfully tense scene). With the cash in hand, Forster takes Jesse to Alaska with a new identity and a chance for a new life.

I think it’s easy to see the issues here. The movie’s not bad, but it’s not really a movie. The conflict that Jesse is in is largely internal (which is fine). He’s struggling to cast off the beaten dog he had become in order to reclaim some sense of who he was. He wants to be able to function in society again, even if that society is thousands of miles away from his old life. The problem is that his journey is less important in the long sequences that dominate the film than the search for money, the plot stuff, so to speak. It’s the sort of storytelling you would expect from a television series, where the plot of the individual episode is what dominates that episode, but across a season you see the growth of the characters as an accumulation of small moments over a dozen or so hours. That doesn’t work quite as well in the concentrated storytelling medium that is a two hour feature film.

And still, there are some wonderful moments here. Jesse’s search of Todd’s apartment and the confrontation with the two fake police officers is marvelously tense. Jesse’s interactions with Robert Forster’s vacuum cleaner repairman are wonderful. Badger and Skinny Pete being as gentle and caring as their characters can be towards their friend and hero Jesse Pinkman in his moment of greatest need is quite touching. The problem is structural. The movie overcomes it to a certain degree, but not quite enough.

I read someone else calling El Camino an epilogue to Breaking Bad and I think that’s the best way to put it. Epilogues don’t generally have huge story arcs. They’re small in nature, and El Camino is small. It’s easy to see how they were able to film this pretty much in complete secret. The cast is very small (distractingly so at some times, especially around the skinheads), and the action almost exclusively happens in small sets like Todd’s apartment that dominates the middle third of the film. Watched as the final three episodes of Breaking Bad probably makes it flow a bit better, viewing it as the last three episodes of a television series, rather than as a stand alone movie.

Netflix Rating: 4/5

Quality Rating: 3/4

2 thoughts on “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s