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El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

It’s curious, a couple of years ago the jump from TV to film would be the sign of big things to come: bigger budget, higher audience reach, etc. However, as TV and streaming have exploded in the past five years, this jump to the multiplex has become less of a prize; your running-time keeps you more constrained to deliver a satisfying story, and the large budget carries a pressure to deliver big numbers. Downton Abbey (2019) recently has been able to make this transition with success, but the same can’t be said for the Entourage(2015) or Veronica Mars (2014) films. However, the most critically acclaimed series of (perhaps) all time, Breaking Bad (2008-2013) has been put into a film form, in the form of a Netflix sequel El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019).

El Camino takes off nearly immediately after the events of the Breaking Bad finale, finding Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) on the run after Walter White (Bryan Cranston) sacrificed himself to liberate him from white supremacists. The film follows Jesse in a picaresque style, while maintaining the modern Western roots. Jesse looks to scrounge up his bearings and disappear into the sunset.

The film might seem unnecessary for those who found the series finale to be a perfect culmination; but the ending did leave Jesse’s fate ambiguous, as well as his time in captivity. El Camino seeks to exploit this unexplored territory and brings about a more complete end to the other half of the Breaking Bad duo. Given the series’ success, it might seem like this film is an unabashed cash-grab, much like speculations around spin-off series Better Call Saul (2015-) were. However, that ongoing series, as well as El Camino have the insuperable Vince Gilligan at the helm, who brings about the wit and methodical realism that made Breaking Bad so unique.

Gilligan crafts El Camino in the previously mentioned picaresque style, with Jesse visiting different characters both in flashbacks (with the great Jesse Plemmons returning) and in the film’s present. These add a refreshing flavor as well as unpredictability, allowing viewers to instead relish in the fabulous cinematography, sound design, and dialogue. The great crafts that Gilligan employs in his previous projects seem to return here, and to witness such professionalism alone is worth the watch. However, when taking a step back, and trying to grasp the impact that the film has onto the greater Breaking Bad storyline, it seems to be a small dint.

Sure there is a wrapping of Jesse’s storyline of sorts, but the film doesn’t justify a sense of urgency or great necessity to exist. It’s always great to revisit characters and see Gilligan and his team in full glory, but the impact this film will have on the legacy of its greater series seems to be small. There are no great shocks that twist the story in an unexpected way; instead El Camino simply serves as a peep-hole into the creative way that Gilligan imagines Jesse would have come to peace. The film feels very compact, and while not tonally, certainly proportionately different from Breaking Bad. However, if one is immersed in the individual scenes, one forgets of the greater universe of the film, simply because the directing and performances are so enthralling.

Aaron Paul has been able to bring the transformation of Jesse to a spectacular finish. The American actor took his arrogant and vulgar drug-dealer in a journey of self-discovery and vulnerability to the point that his flashbacks in El Camino strike you against the scarred man that he’s become. It is a fabulous showcase in acting, and it is only sad that Paul hasn’t been able to gain a foothold outside of the series’ world, being in such flops as Need for Speed (2014) and throwaway roles in comedies like Central Intelligence (2016). Here’s to hoping that – apart from his voice acting in BoJack Horseman (2014-) – he can exploit his casting in season 3 of HBO’s Westworld (2016-) – his performance in El Camino certainly demands it.

In the end, El Camino leaves me with a difficult question. Even if a sequel doesn’t greatly justify itself or flash alongside its predecessor, if it is done professionally, with delicious acting, directing, and every other technical department, is it still worth seeing? In my eyes, good filmmaking is always worth seeing; and if one looks at this film as a small western, it heightens in quality before your eyes. Certainly nothing being compared to Breaking Bad could ever meet such expectations anyways.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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