El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (R)★★★

Aaron Paul stars in ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.’ Photo Credit: Netflix.

A Worthy Next Chapter to “Breaking Bad”

Ending a beloved TV show in a way that satisfies die-hard fans and critics is a difficult feat.  Some of the best-made shows have tried, but fell short in their final seasons with at least part of their fan base.

“Breaking Bad” (2008-2013) appeared to be a notable exception to the rule, as it seemed to get better with each passing season and ended on an extremely high note that floored audiences. It came as a surprise to many when it was announced that the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, shot a sequel movie, which took place directly after the events of “Breaking Bad.” The main fear of fans was that this movie would sully the great finish of the TV finale. Rest assured Gilligan, once again, cooks up a satisfying story for the main protagonist, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, The Parts You Lose, 2019) in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.

The storyline begins directly after the events of “Breaking Bad with Jesse racing down the road in the eponymous El Camino. When Jesse sees police lights heading towards the property where he was kept prisoner for months, he quickly pulls off the road to avoid being seen. Knowing he is wanted in connection with a massive drug operation that resulted in numerous deaths, Pinkman heads to the home of his friends and fellow meth dealers, known as Badger (Matt Jones, Brightburn, 2019) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker, The Rookie, 2019), to hide out. After providing some comic relief while arguing over a video game, Badger and Skinny Pete are interrupted by a knock on the door. They open it to find a dirty and bearded Jesse, who is nearly unrecognizable after his long captivity. For Jesse’s protection, the pair agree to hide his car from the street and park it behind a temporary fence. While Jesse showers, Badger and Skinny Pete flip on the news and see reports of the shootout that Jessie somehow survived and get a sense for all he has endured the past few months. The next morning, Jesse insists he needs to get out of Albuquerque and hatches a plan with his friends to avoid the authorities while he looks for a way out of his situation. Audiences are taken on a ride through Jesse’s desperate escape and key flashbacks that reveal his plan and motives.

Charles Baker and Matt Jones star in “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.” Photo Credit: Netflix.

The good news for “Breaking Bad” fans is that El Camino is an expertly well-made film that includes much of what made the show so iconic. First and foremost, Vince Gilligan, the showrunner of the series and writer / director of this film is arguably one of the most skilled visual storytellers in television. In this film, he once again showcases his talents with amazing shot selection that separates his body of work from the field. The film also offers that unique brand of methodically built suspense that was a trademark of the TV show. Gilligan is a mad scientist when it comes to building tension and he successfully does this several times throughout El Camino.

In regard to the performances they are just as superb. Paul is a natural as Jesse Pinkman – so much so – that some may argue he could be typecast at this point. That assessment is really unfair and in this stand-alone movie, Paul gets a chance to showcase a wider range of his talents. Aaron Paul never received the Emmy recognition and attention that Bryan Cranston did, but fears that a movie focused solely on Jesse’s character would struggle were unfounded as his performance in this film stands up.

Aaron Paul and Jesse Plemons star in ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.’ Photo Credit: Netflix.

There is much to praise about the Netflix film, but the bad news for fans of the original series is that while this film is very good, it’s still not “Breaking Bad.” The original series was able to slowly build its story, while El Camino compresses its into a two-hour film format without commercial breaks to give the audience a chance to reflect (and catch their breath). The result is that the film’s pacing feels off at times as it jumps from scene to scene. It would be interesting to see how this movie would be received if it were released on cable TV with commercial breaks and not on Netflix, which was built for binge-watching audiences. Alternatively, it may have been better if the film was broken out into a small miniseries to tell more of the story in an even-paced fashion. It also lacks the presence of a key adversary that the show was able to successfully create each season. Jesse certainly faces danger in this film, but it was not as compelling as the threats Jesse and Walt (Bryan Cranston) faced during the show. Another flaw is that, at times, the film strays into ‘fan service’ as opposed to focusing on telling its own, original story.

In order to avoid a true spoiler alert, I will not mention the cameos, but its valid to say the film leans heavily on nostalgia for the original series. This type of problem is not uncommon in movie sequels (see the film versions of Entourage or Sex and the City). These works tend to overly cater to audiences’ cravings for familiar characters they love and seeing the “hits get played,” but it is often at the expense of a compelling narrative, or worse, a purpose at all. Fortunately, this is not the case with El Camino. While this film may not have been necessary, especially with the excessive allusions to the TV series, creator Vince Gilligan spins an original story that brings much of what made his past work great. It also closes the book on a complicated character that is difficult not to root for.

Bottom Line:  El Camino is a worthy next chapter to an all-time, remarkable modern crime story. “Breaking Bad” fans should watch, especially with the convenience of viewing from home on Netflix. Audiences who did not watch the TV series should definitely hit pause on viewing until they are up to speed on the storyline.

Credits: Written and directed by Vince Gilligan

Starring: Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman), Jesse Plemons (Todd Alquist), Krysten Ritter (Jane Margolis), Charles Baker (Skinny Pete), Matt Jones (Brandon “Badger” Mayhew), Scott MacArthur (Neil), Robert Forster (Ed Galbraith), and Jonathan Banks (Mike Ehrmantraut)

Studio: Netflix

Running Time: 122 minutes

Jessica DeLong © October 12, 2019