11 October 2019 12:53
★★★★☆ Call him Gilligan the gambler. Having tied up Breaking Bad, his saga of a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin, with one of the most satisfying finales in television history, the screenwriter and director Vince Gilligan doubled down by embarking on a prequel series, Better Call Saul. The gamble paid off — that languorously dark show was actually superior to its predecessor. Now Gilligan has bet the house again on a feature-length stand-alone sequel to Breaking Bad. Did he really want to risk tarnishing such a pristine legacy again? Well, yes he did and no he hasn't.
El Camino, which Gilligan wrote and directed, is a powerful and unshowy epilogue to an expertly told saga. It's slow, yes, and not overburdened with action, but pace and… Six years ago one of the greatest TV shows in history ended with a bang. Breaking Bad won legions of fans around the world, with creator Vince Gilligan expanding the universe in prequel series Better Call Saul. And now he's opened the world up further by giving Breaking Bad an epilogue and closure to Jesse's story in El Camino. Set right after his escape from the Nazis in series finale Felina, the Breaking Bad movie follows the fugitive in his bid for freedom.
Gilligan is a master storyteller and wouldn't make a Breaking Bad movie on a whim. Luckily El Camino isn't just a longer Breaking Bad episode, but a fitting epilogue and tribute to a much-loved show, even if the focus is no longer on the deceased Walter White. The cameos (which we won't spoil here) are a real treat for the fans, even if one of the actors looks distractingly different after a six-year gap. But don't expect everyone you might have thought to show up making an appearance. Additionally, El Camino features some neat Easter Eggs from the show, so make sure you've refreshed yourself, while Marshall Adams' cinematography captures some breathtaking shots of that familiar New Mexico landscape. READ MORE: BREAKING BAD RECAP – WHERE ARE THE CHARACTERS AT? Review: 'El Camino' picks up where 'Breaking Bad' left off The last time we saw Jesse Pinkman, he was hysterically laughing and crying after fleeing the scene of the final bloodbath that closed out "Breaking Bad." What happens next is the territory of "El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie," the durable feature-length Netflix drama that isn't so much a new beginning to the "Breaking Bad" saga as it is an addendum to the story. It fills in some of the gaps in Pinkman's story and what happened to him after he drove off into the night. Pinkman's escape, crashing through a chain link fence at full speed in an El Camino, was the series' closest approximation of a happy ending. That's because in many ways Pinkman — played by Aaron Paul, who won three Emmys for his role as the burnout who went on to cook meth with his high school chemistry teacher — was the heart of the series, which wrapped in 2013 after five seasons. With his soft eyes and gentle manner, Paul allowed viewers in and made them feel for the character and even root for him. Bryan Cranston's Walter White had done too much wrong to go forward. But Pinkman was a victim and an underdog, and even if he didn't exactly deserve a second shot, no one was going to argue if he was given one. "El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie" gives him that second shot. "El Camino" flashes back just as much as it picks up Pinkman's story in the immediate aftermath of his escape. It isn't packed with fireworks: writer-director Vince Gilligan keeps the pace at a slow burn, like a long drag off a cigarette, framing the story as Pinkman's redemption tale. The film opens with a quick recap of events leading up to the "Breaking Bad" finale, a helpful TripTik for those who haven't revisited the series lately. We're reminded that before Walter's guns went a-blazin', Pinkman was held hostage, chained up, cooking meth for quiet psycho Todd (Jesse Plemons) and his uncle's gang of thugs. Plemons' Todd is back in flashback, as are a handful of other familiar faces from the series; a quick refresher on Robert Forster's character, Ed, certainly wouldn't hurt viewers. Gilligan, working with cinematographer Marshall Adams, captures some stunning desert photography, a hallmark of the series. He colors in the edges of his frames with the crooks, lowlifes and schemers that always made his series so vivid. "El Camino" recreates the tone and feel of "Breaking Bad" so effectively that it's a wonder it wasn't shot at the same time and stuck in a vault until now. It's not as sharp as the series was at its best, however, and it takes a few narrative shortcuts the series would have made sure to plot out in more exacting fashion. Gilligan sees Pinkman as the outlaw hero of this Western, quite literally in one climactic scene. Pinkman was never a big picture thinker, and "El Camino" stays true to him by keeping things appropriately small scale. The key word in its title is that capital letter "A": This is a "Breaking Bad" movie, not the "Breaking Bad" movie. Does that mean there's more to come? Why not: "Breaking Bad" has proven to be fertile storytelling ground — "Better Call Saul" is soon to be entering its fifth season — and there's plenty of ground to cover with other characters (Gustavo Fring!), should Gilligan so choose. In that sense, "Breaking Bad" was already an ice cream sundae. Simply think of "El Camino" as the cherry on top. [email protected] @grahamorama 'El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie' GRADE: B Rated TV-M: Violence, language, drug use, mature themes Running time: 122 minutes