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The highly anticipated Netflix release El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie has arrived and it is everything that it should be in two hours of dark laden entertainment. For fans of the original series it is a long overdue closure to one of the series most popular characters. However, it will stir mixed feelings amongst those die-hards regarding its necessity in the overall scheme of the original storyline, as it adds nothing new with the exception of redemption.
It is 6 years since Breaking Bad ended, and unlike many series of the same calibre, it actually had a fitting end (looking at you The Sopranos). Vince Gilligan, the man who both penned and directed the show, closed it in the most satisfying way possible. This was with a shootout and the death of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) but also the liberation of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) from redneck Neo-Nazis. As the character of Jesse sped to freedom in the darkness, the series ended. So, the question now is: Why should he be revisited in a feature length movie?
For that answer, it is best to consider Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul. The hit series, again created by Gilligan, gives further depth to the background story of the original. It lets the audience into the world of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) before he became Saul Goodman (Walter White’s crooked lawyer), and also gives insight as to what happened to one of the shows most loved characters after he took flight similar to Jesse.
That sums up the ‘whys’ as to this feature length event – it’s quite simply to give the character of Jesse Pinkman the fitting closure that he deserved. That said, with very few loose ends left in the first place, El Camino was always going to risk being seen as milking the popularity of Breaking Bad.
Luckily it works spectacularly well. This dark and claustrophobic tale begins the same moment the series ended. El Camino detonates with Jesse speeding into the darkness, fueled by the adrenaline of a beast let loose from captivity.
This character is a shell of the Pinkman from the original series. The time in a cage has hardened and stripped him of his dignity and extinguished his spirit. Even his trademark sentence ending ‘bitch’ – which he used so frequently in Breaking Bad – has dissipated due to trauma. Paul here plays a character who has nothing to lose. He’s more calculating and at times unhinged. This is to the point he resembles the sociopaths he escaped from.
The cinematography is outstanding. Similar to the character of Pinkman, the visuals this time around have an extra edge, with a lot more claustrophobic and nocturnal framing. Meanwhile, Gilligan’s mindful misdirection and skill at building slow-burn constantly ratcheting stakes is forever prevalent.
Thankfully the promotional trailers for El Camino give away nothing, meaning viewers have constantly no idea where the story is heading. That said, there are small clues thanks to several of the main Breaking Bad cast returning. In particular, the presence of the recently passed away Robert Forster lends his scenes a strong air of melancholy.
The overriding flaw here is audiences who have not indulged in all 62 episodes of Breaking Bad will be lost at sea. El Camino does not stand on its own. It is too fractured into a number of flashback storylines for newcomers to follow. That said, the acting of Aaron Paul as the broken Pinkman is outstanding, while Vince Gilligan still manages to inject dark humour stylishly where possible.
El Camino may split opinion. However, it is bridging the gap nicely in the Breaking Bad universe as audiences await the return of Better Call Saul in 2020.