Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviving a property that ended perfectly is risky business. Dying gracefully twice is no easy task to accomplish. Yet, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, despite all prior skepticism, emerges as a taut, unpredictable western-thriller. The ending of Breaking Bad was definitive, but there were a number of loose ends, particularly concerning Walter White’s partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman. This is Pinkman’s story. While there are a myriad of familiar faces scattered throughout the film, Pinkman is front and center. This is a brave exploration of the physical and psychological consequences of the life Pinkman suffered over the course of the shows five seasons, allowing him closure and maybe even a little peace.
El Camino begins hours after the conclusion of the show. Walter White has been exposed as the true identity of Heisenberg and Jesse as his accomplice. Jesse is being pursued by just about everyone in Albuquerque, from the cops to crooks. Jesse has a plan to escape, perhaps start a new life, however, much of the tension in this film is displaying all the possible situations in which that plan could go horribly awry. There are a number of wonderful stealth scenes, Jesse’s face is so recognizable, especially in a small city like Albuquerque, that just seeing his scarred face in the sunlight is enough to raise the stakes.
The cameos from members of the series are universally fantastic, even the flashbacks, of which there are many, mostly add new depth to a story that we had presumed finished. There are harrowing glimpses into Jesse’s captivity at a Nazi-meth camp. The juxtaposition between Jesse during these moments of helplessness and his desperate on-the-run persona he has cultivated only enforce an eagerness to see him achieve some sense of stability. The most effective flashback, however, involves Breaking Bad’s iconic anti-hero, Walter White. The distorted relationship Jesse and he share is encapsulated into a brief five minute sequence. It’s an appropriately melancholy affair, the chemistry between Walter and Jesse if initially minimal in Breaking Bad, is completely absent in this scene. They’d have been better off eating in silence.
If the movie is guilty of one fault, it’s this: El Camino is a fantastic two-hour epilogue to Breaking Bad but fails to achieve success as a standalone entity, similar to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The impact of the film will be extremely dulled if one has not viewed the five prior seasons of Breaking Bad, which if one has not, let El Camino be an urgent motivator to view that series.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is consistently engaging and undeniably thrilling. The distinctly stylistic aesthetic of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul has been minimized here, there are some amazing shots and the composition is often meaningful, but the tone is more muted and morose. This isn’t a flaw, however, because it so accurately reflects Jesse’s mental trauma. Where Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul hint at the promise of something evil in a disguise of normalcy, El Camino, displays what happens when that evil is uncovered and so too are its victims. Jesse Pinkman received an ending that was natural for a character whose existence has been marked by turbulence and chaos. Breaking Bad left Pinkman’s fate hopefully ambiguous while El Camino proves that a happy ending requires hard work.