Published on October 15th, 2019 | by Craig Silliphant0
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Jesse is back, on the run, in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. Does it hold up to the high standard set by the series?
For those who want to take another dive into the Breaking Bad universe, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is quite satisfying, for the most part. Is it breaking new ground? Nope. Does it need to? Nope. In fact, it feels less like a ‘movie’ than it does an extended episode. And it feels less like a sequel to the series than it does a coda to the original story. None of that is a bad thing. In fact, if you want something new and different, go check out Better Call Saul, which takes the material in very different directions.
Before we get into El Camino, let’s spend a second on the two shows. Breaking Bad is considered by many to be the best show that’s ever graced TV screens. Not me. While I think it’s up there, for sure, there are several shows I’d put above it (The Wire, The Sopranos, etc). In fact, Breaking Bad didn’t hold up for me as well upon rewatch, because a lot of the excitement is predicated on the twists and turns. Once you know those, it felt a bit like going through the motions.
I would actually put my neck on the line and say Better Call Saul is the superior show. Now, I suppose it depends what you look for in a show, but in terms of the writing and rewatchability, Saul has my money. A lot of Breaking Bad fans I encounter gave up on the show early, simply because it’s such a different animal. The character driven show didn’t have the violence and action they craved. To each their own. And we’re really comparing degrees of super-awesomeness here.
El Camino has more in common with Breaking Bad, and it’s fun to slide back into that world. It moves back and forth through time, telling the story of Jesse Pinkman in the days that follow his escape from the white supremacist compound, where he was being held in a cage, forced to cook meth. While he tries to find freedom and redemption, he flashes back in time, mostly to the period that he was in captivity.
In my review of It: Chapter Two, I criticized the film for adding flashback scenes, giving us information that we hadn’t seen before, but would have been crucial the first time around, rendering Chapter One sort of pointless, or at least, sloppy. But the opposite is true in El Camino. These flashbacks don’t change the scope of the overall story — they just flesh out pieces we already knew or things that are pertinent to where Jesse is now, both physically and emotionally. Vince Gilligan is a great writer and this all sells Jesse’s PTSD and the redemption arc of El Camino. I’ve been a fan of Gilligan since his X-Files days (I’ve noted it before, but while The X-Files and Breaking Bad are completely different shows, they share a lot of the same DNA in terms of how they tell stories).
As I said, El Camino doesn’t feel like a stereotypical movie, however, it retains the same ‘stylishly shot on a TV budget’ look that made the show stand out. Which is to say, it’s one of the more cinematic television shows of all time. It wouldn’t be a bad thing, going from a TV look to a movie look, as they did with The X-Files movies, for example. But I do like that there’s a consistency with the series for this coda. And there are some very clever visuals in El Camino, like the shot from above of many Jesses searching Todd’s apartment, illustrating the great lengths he’s going to in tearing the place apart.
All in all, I loved El Camino. It had the same wonderful dark humour of the show (the bits about Todd’s cleaning lady and what a weird psychopath Todd is had me in stitches). And there are the tense, thrilling moments you’d expect from Breaking Bad, as well as depth and character. Aaron Paul more than holds his own and we get a sense of how he has taken this character from an inexperienced punk teenager to a man who has seen more than most, learned strategy from Walter White, and uses it all to stay alive.
PS — If we’re looking to expand this universe further — give Skinny Pete and Badger their own show! They’re hilarious and surprisingly deep. Actually, now that I think about it, all they do is play video games and smoke weed, so it might be a bit to ask to wring something compelling out of that for an hour a week. How about a talk show?
PPS — it was awesome to see Robert Forster in one last role. He brought everything this character needed to be successful with a short amount of screen time. There are no small roles, just small actors, and Forster was a giant.