Last week, writer/director/producer Vince Gilligan premiered El Camino, the follow-up feature-length coda to the groundbreaking Breaking Bad, which aired its finale some six years ago. Following up immediately after Jesse Pinkman’s (Aaron Paul) escape from the neo-Nazi compound in which he’d been held and forced to cook meth, we follow him as he scrambles to take control of his life. Flashing back and forth, the narrative fills in some of the gaps of his time in captivity, while giving him just the exact sort of closure one could have imagined him gaining at the original series’ end…
I’d issue a spoiler warning, but there’s very little plot to go into here (not a disparagement, this is a lean, focused affair here). Aside from the tight plot, there is a tight focus on Jesse as well: we get no updates on Skylar, or Walt Jr., with only brief appearances from Badger (Matthew Lee Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), whose relationship with, and care for, Jesse was downright charming and affectionate this time out.
What little screentime they have, they make the most of, deepening their character’s relationship with Pinkman. Pinkman is at once both much more (literally) tortured here, but it is a credit to Aaron Paul’s skill that we gradually see him take command of his own situation (although the results aren’t always what he’d expected). It’s a shame that Need For Speed flopped to the point of Hollywood not wanting to give him a leading role, but it’s great that he can command a small screen once again.
Without spoiling anything, we also see a lot more of Jesse Plemmon‘s Todd, Jesse’s captor and tormentor, through revealing flashbacks (these make up about a third of the runtime). Plemmons has certainly grown (quite literally as well) as an actor since the series finale, and there’s a level to his socio- and psychopathy that run so much more clear in this film.
Soft spoken and ever calm, Todd revels himself to be the most sadistic and creepy character in the entire show (and that’s saying something), and Plemmons imbues his character with menace even while calmly and evenly asking Jesse what type of soup he would like. These scenes especially re-contextualize the relationship between Todd and Jesse, making (***6+ YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT!***) Jesse’s murder of him in the series finale that much more meaningful (I recall thinking Jesse overdoing it a bit while choking the life out him; but NOW we know why he was as vicious as we saw).
There are a few more familiar faces, and Gilligan’s trademark gorgeous cinematography(and rather inventive use of camera angles) alongside DP Marshall Adams, a blending of genres (culminating in a nice, exciting —if illogically contrived—Western-influenced face-off climax), composer Dave Porter‘s great, inventive score, and it was great to see the late Robert Forster one last time as The Cleaner…his will be a missed presence in film, so there’s a lot to enjoy here.
As always, there’s the dark humor of it all, and the deliberate, focused, patient pace. However, gorgeous shots and angles aside…there isn’t really a point to this coda. There’s nothing much too revealing (aside from some additional context during the captivity flashbacks) that suggest that this was a movie that NEEDED to be made. Sure, it was great to revisit these characters (especially since most of them are dead), but by the time the last shot rolled around, it was clear that the movie was leading to the exact same conclusion that I’d imagined the character would take when the series bowed out.
At the end though, it was a delight taking in this world and seeing these characters again (at least until Better Call Saul is back on the air!), and while this film doesn’t degrade or undo any of the developments of Breaking Bad, it doesn’t quite anything new that couldn’t be logically inferred from that show’s last few shots. As such, this is not a movie one can come into cold: there is no catching up to speed, or bothering to introduce non-fans to this universe. Like its namesake vehicle, El Camino is a smooth, slick, fast, gorgeous ride…even if it just goes around the block and ends right back where it started. 3.75/5 Cans of Bacon and Bean Soup.