Daily Archives: September 8, 2021

El Camino (2019)

*. Subtitled A Breaking Bad Movie. The producer thought it was a standalone movie (well, he would), but showrunner/writer/director Vince Gilligan thought he was making it for fans. I think Gilligan had it right.
*. It picks up directly where the series finale left off and I couldn’t imagine someone getting much out of it if they didn’t know all the back story and the various characters. Personally, I barely remembered the girlfriend (Jane) who reappears at the end. Didn’t she die in the third season? I thought it was pretty early in the show.
*. I loved Breaking Bad, thinking it was the best thing on television at the time, and I’m a big fan of a lot of the cable series that were contemporary with it. They set a new standard in television drama and long-form storytelling. But is this movie more than just a coda, and a not very necessary one at that? A farewell to Albuquerque and the gang of deceased and soon-to-be-deceased, loveable and not-so-loveable, rogues? Badger and Skinny Pete. Walter and Mike. The chilling psychopath Todd. But no Saul. He had his own show by now.

*. I don’t think it is much more than that long good-bye. And while it’s a nicer send-off than the show’s final episode (which I thought was awful), the dramatic highlights don’t measure up to any of the most memorable moments from the series. There’s a Western-style showdown which feels contrived and improbable. A dry negotiation between Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Ed (Robert Forster). And really that’s about it. Not much happens and there isn’t a lot of interesting interaction going on between the different characters.
*. While Aaron Paul is a decent actor, I’m not sure Jesse Pinkman is that interesting a character. He was basically Walter White’s sidekick in the series and while he travels a bit of an arc here it’s mostly what you’d expect. Meanwhile the story itself is quite downbeat and, as noted, it plays out as a long denouement.

*. One thing I do have to credit them for, or at least credit the producers of the DVD on, is the “super-commentary!” they put together. This isn’t the usual monologue by a director or writer. In fact Gilligan isn’t on it at all (he’s featured more in the “making of” documentary also included with the DVD). Instead you get insight from a line-up of not the usual suspects: wardrobe, make-up, gaffer, editor, co-supervising sound editor, special effects coordinator, prop master, sound mixer, key grip, casting directors . . . dozens of voices in all. Everyone takes turns talking a bit about what’s going on and they’re all in a good mood and enthusiastic because, let’s face it, this is their Super Bowl.
*. Along the way you learn lots of interesting things. Like when the prop master talks about the scene where Jesse consults a phone book. Apparently this was difficult because phone books aren’t that common anymore. In addition, all the names and numbers you see on screen, however briefly, have to be cleared for legal reasons. I like these bits of insight into the amount of work that goes into a production like this.

*. And it is a good-looking production. Gilligan has a real eye for expressive sets and settings and he gets to indulge that eye here in widescreen. It’s well written in the tense and dry style of the show. But at the end of the day there isn’t much of a story to tell, and nothing much to say. Fans were keen to know what happened to Jesse, and Gilligan winds that part of the story up, but that was really the only loose end. It’s more satisfying than the series finale, and much better than Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me as far as big-screen codas to popular television shows go. But it’s not a standalone feature and even plays more like an alternate ending or extended director’s cut to the series than a sequel. One for the fans, in other words, and I don’t think they have any cause to be upset.