Netflix UK TV review: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
10/10 Total Rating 8.3/10
Aaron Paul dominates every frame of this thrilling, tense, funny and sad return for Jesse Pinkman.
Director: Vince Gilligan Cast: Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons, Scott MacArthur Certificate: 15 Watch El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie online in the UK: Netflix UK
At the end of every story is the sense of a world changed forever. When a story finds the right spot to close the book, to let the world exist without us watching, we accept this, we even try to embrace it, and then are left to ponder. Sometimes, we are offered a rare further look at that world, through spin-offs, prequels, sequels or side-quels, but it’s rarer still that a story’s entire creative unit re-form to bring something to the audience that maybe even they weren’t demanding.
Fans of Breaking Bad had a great run with the show: five strong seasons, with lots of thrills, spills and laughs along the way. Four exceptional seasons of prequel Better Call Saul have helped round out the Albuquerque of the show. With El Camino, the powers that be (creator Vince Gilligan, Netflix, Sony, et al.) have handed us two extra hours of Jesse Pinkman.
Broken, bruised, lost mentally, hunting physically, having just escaped the imprisonment of white supremacist meth-manufacturers – and having just strangled Todd (Plemons), seen Walter (Bryan Cranston) for one last moment, and fled from his nightmare as a massacre occurred – Pinkman now dodges the law. Driving Todd’s El Camino, he looks for aid from anyone left willing to lend a hand, and has one single plan to make it out of New Mexico for ever.
Details of the film were kept under wraps all the way to dropping on Netflix, and to dig into them would be redundant: the simple fact is the movie drops us back into Jesse’s story moments after he left Breaking Bad, and from there, he battles with ghosts of the past, and fights to make way for his future. Yes we get some characters popping up again, but really, it’s the Pinkman movie and the way Aaron Paul dominates most frames, even when his character is shrivelled and wrecked, reminds us of that non-stop.
There’s a lot to respect in El Camino. It’s a way for Gilligan and team to explore further creative, technical, visual, audio and narrative devices. It is at once within the world of Breaking Bad and, stylistically, tonally, its own film – impressive, indeed, and for that alone El Camino justifies existing in the form that it does.
Narratively, however, unlike the 47-minute TV show episodes, hitting two hours leaves the pacing a little too slow, sometimes feeling tedious, rather than tense. Flashbacks to the past run a little long; trying to tie the past to Jesse’s decisions in the present is fine, but this can go on for stretches.
While the story dips and dives at times – it’s never as engaging, emotional or as thrilling as its opening 30 minutes – El Camino is a tour-de-force for Aaron Paul. Always overlooked by awards for Breaking Bad because, well, Bryan Cranston, Paul gets his time to bring in every stage of Jesse Pinkman, from loud, eager, vulgar youth to the broken, withered, husk he becomes, and it is beautiful to see him hit every note perfectly. Mostly left to sit and ruminate, Paul’s silence, and small movements, enhance so much, and when things blast into high gear, the thrilling, tense, funny and sad moments are elevated by Paul’s return to character.
El Camino struggles to justify a reason, narratively, to return to post-Breaking Bad Albuquerque, especially picking up so soon after the show’s finale, but what it lacks in momentum it makes up for visually and technically, through performance and tone. It’s nice to go back sometimes and explore parts of a world we never got to see, but truth be told, once a story is finished it’s probably best just to turn back to the start of the book and re-read it instead.