Breaking Bad was a slow burn TV phenomenon that was a rare show that became more popular as it went on, with its final episode being the most watched. As much crazy stuff happened in the last few episodes, it was mostly centered on Walt (Bryan Cranston). Walt’s partner, Jesse (Aaron Paul) was relegated to being kidnapped so he didn’t get much of an ending, instead just literally speeding off screaming. The Netflix release El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie picks up right where it left off, giving Jesse some closure. If Walt got a bunch of episodes to end Breaking Bad, Jesse gets his own epilogue film. El Camino is a fantastic send off for Jesse that has resonance for fans of the show, and while watching or re–watching the last three episodes of Breaking Bad beforehand enhances the experience, it works as a standalone caper film. It’s has a bunch of very tense scenes, some darkly funny bits, and powerfully dramatic moments as El Camino follows Jesse on his last ride towards freedom or death.
Former meth cooker Jesse Pinkman (Paul) has been released from captivity where he was held and forced to cook blue meth by criminal white supremacists. Now on the run from the law, Jesse gets assistance from his friends Badger (Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker). But Jesse is having a hard time keeping it together, haunted by flashbacks of his captivity and torture at the hands of Todd (Jesse Plemons) and others. Desperate for cash, Jesse runs into trouble from all sides, hoping he can get in touch with a vacuum salesman named Ed (Robert Forster) who can help him get a new life, but things may come crashing down.
Written and directed by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, El Camino employs a flashback structure that was used on the show. A lot of the flashbacks here are about when Jesse was captured because in the show his captivity was only glimpsed in small bits and the flashbacks show the depth of his emotional trauma. An extended, and often funny, flashback has Jesse with Todd on an excursion which had some intense moments. Both Paul and Plemons are great, with Plemons’ Todd a benign psychopath captor who loves singing smooth tunes. There’re also flashbacks with other characters that provide an emotional closure for Jesse he couldn’t get on the show as things went crazy. Seeing these lost moments are basically a way of letting him say goodbye with small interactions he didn’t know were important at the time. It’s not just fan–service, the flashbacks are a part of Jesse’s emotional journey. He doesn’t have anyone to talk to so his memories are how he processes his grief.
Jesse also must deal with a lot of random bad luck while constantly dodging cops and criminals. The movie has a small scope yet it looks epic as Gilligan shoots scenes with a widescreen image which befits the modern western vibe of Breaking Bad; there’s even a shoot–out confrontation that has a great twist to it. One bit has Jesse stuck in an apartment looking for cash when two cops show up and things get progressively worse. The movie has some great tense scenes as violence can potentially happen at any moment, like how Jesse’s trip with Todd starts of as banal and then gets horrific. Their trip to the desert looks totally desolate and the end of the scene is heartbreaking. The climax of the movie involves Jesse confronting nasty crooks, with Scott McArthur’s Neil utterly evil and enjoying it. Neil’s sidekick, Casey, played by Scott Shepard gets in some good moments and his first face to face scene with Jesse is a masterpiece of slowly escalating tension.
Paul is at the centre of the entire movie and Jesse is inherently likable which is why it’s so harrowing to see him put through the emotional wringer. Jesse was a bit of a chatterbox early on in the show but subsequent trauma has hardened him. So now when someone is pointing a gun at his head he doesn’t even blink. Baker and Jones as Jesse’s faithful buddies may be characters mostly there for quips but they have heart.
One of the movie’s best scenes is when Jesse goes to Ed to figure out how to escape town and their interaction doesn’t go as Jesse has planned. Tragically, the actor who plays Ed, the great Robert Forster, passed away on the day El Camino was released. He’s truly fantastic in the role and is able to convey so much with subtle motions. He is darkly hilarious too as Ed is clinically professional when he lays out the rules to Jesse and Jesse’s reaction is grand. The button to the scene with Jesse and Ed is involving a 911 call is awesomely funny. They share another scene together later and it and it has a lot of emotional resonance without saying much.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie works like gangbusters for fans of the show to give a beloved character a send–off but is also a tense standalone crime drama that is very artistically done. It is a gift of a TV classic that gets a widescreen final epilogue. V
A BREAKING BAD MOVIE
Director: Vince Gilligan
Starring: Aaron Paul,
and Matt Jones