EL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE

When Breaking Bad initially ended and the spin-off series Better Call Saul was announced, everybody thought that’s all we would see of Vince Gilligan’s iconic universe. I certainly never expected a feature film, especially one that’s a sequel that shows what happened to Jesse after originally driving off into the night. We last saw his character driving the El Camino car from the Neo-Nazi compound, yelling and crying tears of happiness. Sure, we don’t see what happens to him, but we can infer that he drives off to live the life he deserves. Or, maybe he ends up getting caught and thrown in prison. Well, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie gives us a definitive answer for Jesse Pinkman. Walter and everybody else’s stories were complete, but Jesse still had one more step to go. 

Taking place directly after the events of Breaking BadEl Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie follows Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) as he escapes from the Neo-Nazi compound that held him prisoner the past 6 months. That doesn’t mean he’s safe, though, as the police are hunting for him as a “person of interest”, in connection with Walter White aka Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston). Desperate to not get imprisoned again, Jesse uses his newfound wit and skills he’s learned over the past 2 years to escape the authorities as they relentlessly hunt him down. 

The main theme behind the Breaking Bad franchise is “transformation”. Breaking Bad is about the meek Walter White changing into the monstrous Heisenberg. Better Call Saul tells the story of good-natured Jimmy McGill’s transformation into the sleazy Saul Goodman. El Camino is all about Jesse finally transforming into someone who has control. Over the entire course of Breaking Bad, Jesse is constantly physically and emotionally abused, tortured, and manipulated by people who only use him as a means to an end. When Jesse refused to shoot Walter in the series finale, he wasn’t just making Walt die on his own terms, but refusing to be controlled anymore. El Camino is the first time that Jesse’s ever been in real control and using it to his advantage. As he tries to scrounge up money to pay off Ed (Robert Forster, in a terrific final performance), the guy who can disappear you and give you a completely new life, he runs into all sorts of obstacles, such as other criminals looking for the same stash of cash Jesse is. 

Every element to the story is Jesse using all of his skills to finally gain control of his life. He’s able to realize when people are bluffing, when they’re manipulating him, which soft spots to hit. He now has all of the powers Walter White had, but also something else he lacked: a moral compass. Although Jesse is now acting dirty to get what he wants, he never wants to hurt people, because he knows exactly how it feels and he also has enough on his conscience as it is. He just wants to be free and move on with his life. You can really feel it in Paul’s performance too. There’s a rage burning inside of him that won’t be quelled until he’s free, but you can also see the anguish and desperation behind it all. He’s still the same old Jesse with a heart of gold on the inside, but on the outside, he has to be mean and nasty. It goes to show how important Paul’s performance was for Breaking Bad’s success. Every other cast member is just as stellar and perfectly cast. Just like the show, they can be there for one scene, but you feel like you know everything about them as a person. This world and the characters who inhabit it are just so much fun to be around. Also, a huge special shout out to Charles Baker, as Jesse’s best friend Skinny Pete. He was incredible in his limited screentime and what we saw just made his character and relationship with Jesse that much more interesting. 

The pacing here feels much more in line with Better Call Saul, than Breaking Bad, with not a whole lot in the action department. The narrative is very thin on plot and heavy on characterization and the exploration of its themes. A lot of it really just consists of Jesse going from location to location, needing to overcome increasingly tougher obstacles. Interspersed are flashback sequences, many of them featuring Jesse’s time with Todd (Jesse Plemons), as he’s held captive at his compound. As much as I love Breaking Bad (often going back and forth whether that or Better Call Saul is my favorite TV show), I always felt Jesse’s imprisonment subplot felt somewhat underdeveloped, so I loved to see that expanded upon. It’s not really necessary, sure, but it further fleshes out the world and characters I love so much, so I’ll take what I can get. What’s refreshing is that all of the flashbacks, aside from one that I really could have done without, don’t feel forced or gratuitous. They not only develop the characters further, but have an effect on the overall story as well. There are also some returning characters in Jesse’s present-day scenes, and again, they never feel forced and all serve a larger purpose. With their incorporation into the narrative being natural, I was rarely groaning and was smitten to spend more time with these classic characters. 

One key think that sets Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul apart from many other TV shows is that it doesn’t feel like a TV show at all. It all feels completely cinematic, from the lighting, to the shot composition, to the editing. Show creator and writer/director Vince Gilligan flawlessly carries over that cinematic language to actual cinema. There’s a lot of terrific use of depth of field, such as the camera peering out behind rocks to capture the action, or past a wall a character is behind. It gives it an almost voyeuristic feel, making you feel like you’re with Jesse every step of the way. Like its related shows, El Camino doesn’t feel like a TV movie at all, or even like a lot of Netflix’s movie catalogue. It’s actually made by somebody with incredible talent and vision. I saw this in a theater and it looked spectacular and never gave off the effect that I was just watching a TV show on the big screen. The budget was only around $6 million and it looks like a big budget production. That classic Vince Gilligan atmosphere is here too. While the pace is slow, there are still plenty of suspenseful sequences, especially during the climax. It’s that same kind of anxiety you feel from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, where it always feels like something more sinister is on the horizon.  

Is El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie necessary? Not really, but that’s not a bad thing. As I stated above, you can really fill in your own blanks with what happens to Jesse after Breaking Bad, but if you want a more definitive resolution to his character, this is the movie for you. It’s a definitely a film for the huge fans of the show, and if you’re a huge fan, I don’t see how you couldn’t find this a worthy conclusion to Jesse’s journey. 

9.5/10

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