El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie review — Vince Gilligan gives Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman a fitting epilogue
In the midst of this TV revival renaissance, Netflix tempts us with another taste of Vince Gilligan's epic crime drama with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
Watching Walter White's transformation from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher into a meth-making megalomaniac over five masterful seasons of Breaking Bad gave us a 99.1 percent pure cinematic high. So, it took us a while to overcome our prestige TV withdrawal when the series concluded six years ago.
Now, in the midst of this TV revival renaissance, Netflix tempts us with another taste of Vince Gilligan's epic crime drama with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
When TV shows like Firefly and Deadwood were unceremoniously cancelled, their cinematic follow-ups gave us die-hard fans the closure we desperately craved. However, revivals don't always possess the same magic that made the original so good. We all wanted to see the Bluths reunite for another Arrested Development instalment, and Mulder and Scully solve unsolvable cases together again in The X-Files. But both the revivals only undermined their legacy.
While El Camino doesn't hurt Breaking Bad's legacy, it doesn't enhance it either. It does, however, fulfill its purpose as fan service — as you get to see some familiar faces, some tense drama and some gorgeous visuals once again.
But its focus remains on Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman, whose fate was left open-ended in the finale. We last saw him in Todd's El Camino bursting through the gates of Uncle Jack's compound where he had been held captive.
So, we pick up right from where we left off: Jesse is crying, laughing and screaming in joyous relief after fleeing the scene of Walt's death. With cops hot on his trail, he must rely on old friends — Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones) — if he must leave his criminal life behind to start anew.
The narrative frequently goes back in time to fill in some gaps on what happened to Jesse in captivity at the White Supremacist compound — and to add context and meaning to his actions. In these flashbacks, we get another chilling look at the calm-headed cold-bloodedness of Todd Alquist (as he gleefully sings Dr. Hook's 'Sharing The Night Together' with the body of his dead housekeeper in the car) and the less subtle cruelty of Kenny (who tests out the reliability of Jesse's cage in truly sadistic fashion).
Though Breaking Bad started off as a story about Bryan Cranston's Walter White, it soon incorporated a parallel study of another antihero — Jesse. A high-school slacker turned drug dealer, Jesse barely draws our sympathy in the first couple of seasons. On one occassion, he is despicable enough to secretly sell drugs to recovering addicts in a support group.
But Jesse is a victim of cicrumstances, often created by his own poor judgment and impulsiveness. He tries to clean up his act, fall in love, help out a single mother and her son. But things always escalate to the point where he has no other choice but to get his hands dirty again. He often repeats the same mistakes and must thus rely on Walt or Saul to rescue him each time. So, El Camino gives Jesse's redemption arc the ending he deserves because he gets the opportunity to save himself for the first time.
Gilligan imbues El Camino with a strong neo-Western vibe, even including a gunslinger showdown in the climax. Aside from the characters and narrative, he communicates the mood and tone of the film through his camera setups and choice of locations. As always, there are plenty of wide-angle shots of the New Mexico desert and the open blue skyline to build the story's atmosphere. He also uses timelapse sequences to great effect; in one uber-smooth montage of sorts, we see eight Jesses searching for money hidden in an apartment.
Breaking Bad is considered one of the flag-bearers of prestige TV because it pushed the boundaries of long form storytelling. But don't go in expecting a lot from El Camino. It doesn't stand up to scrutiny on its own, and even the most die-hard fans of the show won't be able to convince you otherwise. However, it does give you a chance to relive the Breaking Bad experience and say goodbye to one of TV's greatest characters. And just like what he hopes to do, it "put things right." Just about.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is now streaming on Netflix.
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