El Camino: A Breaking Bad Review

[ED. DISCLAIMER]: Obviously, this is Breaking Bad, which, if you’re not familiar, involves some pretty heavy references to drug trading and use. We’ve tried to minimize explicit references here. If that’s something you’d rather not read, please turn away now.

DISCLAIMER: Review may contain spoilers for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie and Breaking Bad.

DISCLAIMER No. 2: If you have not seen Breaking Bad, the film (and likely this review) will not serve much use for you. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you watch the show, and then come back and watch the film.

I am a huge Breaking Bad fan, having watched the entire series multiple times. So when I heard that creator Vince Gilligan was directing a sequel to the series, I was extremely excited. Well,  after watching said sequel, I can say that I am in no way disappointed. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is a well-done epilogue to the Breaking Bad franchise and a beautiful sendoff for one of television’s greatest characters, Jesse Pinkman. While the movie’s plot is concise and effective, the film serves mainly as a vehicle for actor Aaron Paul and his portrayal of the tortured former meth cook. And what a portrayal it is! Paul reprises his role perfectly, giving a subdued but emotional performance that serves as the beating heart of the whole movie.

El Camino opens with a flashback scene that may be familiar to Breaking Bad viewers. Jesse is talking to Mike Ehrmantraut, the gruff but lovable hitman introduced to the show in Season 2. Both characters remark on what they want to do with the earnings from their operation. Without spoiling anything, this conversation foreshadows the events of the film and helps make clear Jesse’s motivations during the film.

Suddenly, the film jump-cuts to where the TV show left off: Jesse, laughing and crying hysterically, speeding away in the titular El Camino from the white-supremacist hideout where he had been held captive for the last several months. After avoiding a group of police cars, he drives to the house of Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), where he greets the bewildered Pete and their friend Badger (Matt Jones). In a selfless display of compassion, the two invite Jesse into the home and give him a means to evade the police, who by now are on the hunt for the El Camino. It is awesome to see Skinny Pete and Badger (two fan-favorite characters) again, and both actors, especially Baker, give surprisingly heartwarming performances.

To talk about the story much more would be veering into heavy spoiler territory, but I will mention the various flashbacks in the film. Aside from the opening scene with Mike, we also see the return of other beloved (and hated) characters, as well as the introduction of new ones. These flashbacks do a great job of reminding us of all the pain that Jesse has experienced throughout the course of the series, and they help us get into the head of the character and understand the motivations behind these actions. While I feel that one of these scenes drags on a little too long, it is not big enough of an issue to elaborate on.

In terms of the story that doesn’t take place in flashback form, El Camino is satisfying, if not a little underwhelming. The film tells a simple story of a man on the run (from both the law and his own past). Despite clocking in at more than two hours of runtime, the plot is fairly sparse, with little fluff distracting viewers from Jesse’s journey. Fans of the television show know that Gilligan is not about gratuitous action, and this movie follows that precedent. While the whole movie exudes a sense of suspense, there is very little in the way of fast-paced action. However, this is a good thing, as it makes the few action scenes in the movie that much more potent. One nitpick I have with the plot is the antagonist. While this character isn’t meant to be a huge part of the story, they are not developed much, and their actions toward the end of the film are a little puzzling. This leaves they and Jesse’s climactic “final battle” feeling a little flat. That being said, the conflict between Jesse and the villain is not the main focus of the story: rather, the true conflict is within Jesse.

Personally, Jesse is my favorite character in Breaking Bad. Led by Aaron Paul’s brilliant performance, Gilligan takes a seemingly one-dimensional character (slacker, addict, loser) and sheds a light into his psyche. We begin to understand what went wrong with Jesse’s life, and as the show constantly puts him through the ringer, we gain a strong sense of empathy for him. By the time the credits roll on the last episode, the character we see is almost indistinguishable from the one in Season One. This character arc continues in El Camino, with Paul portraying a very mature, jaded Pinkman. We finally get to see him free of the manipulative Walter White and making decisions for himself, which is extremely satisfying to watch. Thanks to Paul’s virtuoso performance, we can truly feel Jesse’s pain and determination. Just like the show, it is an emotional journey for the audience. And without giving anything away, the film’s ending is truly moving.

Plot aside, the technical aspects of the movie are fantastic. This being part of the Breaking Bad universe, the cinematography is stunning and innovative. Albuquerque, with its fascinating blend of natural beauty and urban grime, proves again why it is such a worthy setting. Likewise, the soundtrack is excellent, with its Western influences and atmospheric rhythms. For the most part, the production team does a great job masking the six years that have passed since the show ended, with most characters looking similar to their TV selves (with a few notable exceptions). Thanks to the attentive direction of Gilligan and his team, the film feels like a natural continuation of Jesse’s story.

El Camino: a Breaking Bad Movie is a excellent entry into the Breaking Bad canon. While it doesn’t reach the narrative heights of the show, it only has two hours to work with, as opposed to the show’s five seasons. The film is a quiet reflection rather than a bombastic action film, and feels more like an epilogue than a true sequel. While this may rub some people the wrong way, I found it to be very appropriate. After all, what else did we need besides a fitting wrap-up to Jesse Pinkman’s story? Thanks to strong direction, an engaging plot, and emotional performances, I found El Camino a very satisfying cinematic experience. I would highly recommend it to any Breaking Bad fan.

Sam’s Completely Arbitrary Score: 7.5/10