Film Review: El Camino

Picking up immediately after the conclusion of Breaking Bad, this Netflix Original movie shows us where Jesse Pinkman was going when he drove off in that El Camino…

Running from 2008 to 2013, Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad really was a one of a kind TV drama that many would attest has yet to be dethroned. Its fifth and final season won Emmys, Golden Globes and even a Guiness World Record for the “highest-rated TV series ever”, making the decision to revisit it with a feature film a pretty controversial move.

If it’s been a while since you said farewell to Jesse Pinkman and Walter White, Netflix has a quick recap reel you can check out before the movie, but to summarise, Jesse was captured and forced to cook meth by neo-Nazis, but managed to flee when his former cooking partner gunned them all down in a climactic stand-off.

Watching this video certainly stirs some feelings of nervousness for how the subsequent film is going to turn out, but visionary writer/director Gilligan quickly eliminates all doubt that it was going to be anything less than superb as the audience is completely absorbed back into the Breaking Bad world from the get-go.

It’s important not to tune into the film expecting it to function like an additional series finale that keeps up the momentum set by the TV series. In terms of how Jesse’s story of salvation actually unfolds, the plot could feasibly have been packed down into a standard episode-length epilogue, but El Camino’s two-hour runtime gives it time to breathe with stylish execution and memorable character moments.

Everything people loved about Breaking Bad is still here: the compelling characters, beautiful cinematography, edge-of-your-seat situations, top-notch song choices, dry humour and the gut-punching pathos that lies beneath it all. One feature of the series this instalment particularly leans into is its modernised use of Western tropes, such as Jesse’s friend Skinny Pete giving him his hat before they part ways, rides through rich American scenery and some fantastic gunfights.

Aaron Paul’s portrayal of Jesse is just as captivating as it was six years ago, with his internal struggle manifesting itself in each and every mannerism. You can see all of the baggage the character has piled up since he got into this mess, and are in Jesse’s corner until the end of the journey. 

Another returning cast member who gets a sizable portion of the spotlight is Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons), psychopathic member of the neo-Nazi gang Walt bumped off. Todd appears in flashbacks detailing Jesse’s time under their control, providing both humour and drama surrounding just how cold, emotionless and downright bizarre he is. A few other familiar faces also make surprise appearances, bound to put a smile on any Breaking Bad fan’s face. 

However, despite the pieces being there, El Camino never hits the bar set by the show’s top episodes. While the serial format gave Gilligan the opportunity to set up numerous plotlines and have them all crash together in spectacular fashion, a feature film format just doesn’t give him the space to pull it off in the same way as before. For this reason, some fans might not sit well with how the movie’s runtime is utilised – but a bit of patience and an understanding of what the film is trying to achieve will certainly reward viewers. 

The movie also does a good job of being self-contained – not to the extent that you could fully appreciate it without having seen the series, but enough so that it doesn’t feel like a final exam on everything that came before. This is a fresh narrative that uses people’s love for the show to craft something both familiar and brand-new. 

If you were cautious about the film leaving a smear on Breaking Bad’s spotless conclusion, you’ll be pleased to know that El Camino has turned out to be a thrilling, stylish and poetic curtain call for one of the greatest shows in TV history. Follow Jesse down the path one last time and prepare yourself for the urge to binge it all again.

By Jamie Morris

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