El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
director: vince gilligan | runtime: 2h 2mins | crime, drama
In the immediate aftermath of the Breaking Bad ending, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) finds himself as a person of interest to the FBI. While on the run, he tries to scramble any last favours in the hope of finding a new life for himself.
In a world dominated by quality television that becomes more and more cinematic with every season, nothing quite stands out in popular culture as much as Gilligan’s beloved drug-show Breaking Bad. It’s slow-burning tendencies and visceral imagery, as well as the wonderful Bryan Cranston, have left such an emphatic presence on the world today that for many it seemed very untouchable. But creator and small screen aficionado Vince Gilligan thinks differently, using the necessary platform of Netflix to give you a sufficiently action-packed and important follow on to the story of another beloved character, Jesse Pinkman.
The reason it feels ‘necessary’ for Netflix to be behind this follow on is because it’s strong representation of the show’s tone, a show that somehow felt cinematic but belonged so episodically in the realm of television. So for El Camino the case is the same, such elegant cinematography feels so attached to a cinematic experience, however the world in which we now find Jesse Pinkman on the run has an undeniable similarity to that of it’s predecessor and the feeling of an extended episode somehow feels welcome. This is purely down to the outright genius of Gilligan, who even 6 years later seems to effortlessly create the same ambience he struck gold with, but twinge the settings ever so slightly for a new a fresh experience.
There’s an art to making a movie based on TV, especially when you’re using the same characters within the same world. It takes skill to create something new while giving you that nostalgic feeling about your favourite show, and this is something El Camino does perfectly. When you think of the bad, Entourage (2015) crops up in the mind, being a prime example of a film that has no relevance being on the big screen, but luckily for El Camino it sits pretty among the very best. It’s dusty New Mexico cinematography, the out-of-the-box transitions and even Jesse Pinkman’s signature “bitch” line all fall into a welcoming familiarity, but what really gives this film it’s relevance is Jesse Pinkman’s arc, something that turns out to be a story that we really want to hear.
For the most part the story does rely heavily on Pinkman’s flashbacks, and while this can sometimes be an unnecessary plot device it really does work in the films favour. Every time the film moves forward, it demands a memory and a justification, for example Jesse finds himself tearing away at an apartment to find money for a long time that without a much needed flashback, which includes the always sturdy Jesse Plemons as a returning favourite, would be completely lost on you. These flashbacks, including some nifty transitions (an early shower scene is particularly gripping), are what make this film feel fresh but also make it so enticing. In the present Jesse Pinkman only really travels to a handful of places, but as each place has a memory of it’s own we get to see something that is entirely justified, and adds to the slow-burning nature that Gilligan perfected 6 years earlier.
As already mentioned though it’s Jesse’s story that is so enthralling throughout, it embeds a fresh cat-and-mouse story into an already tense world and in doing so gives Pinkman the much needed send off he deserves. When the show ended 6 years prior we got to see Jesse riding away into the sunset with level of ambiguity to it and while there’s something so wonderful about seeing a burnt out Aaron Paul tearfully driving away, El Camino is much more intrigued by the idea of what follows that escape. But thankfully, and another reason to give Gilligan a lot of props for his story, he neither wears out a beloved character or loses sight of the sunset. Instead he introduces a much more fitting and grounded ‘sayonara’ for a character that surprisingly has a lot more to offer.
In truth Gilligan could have left the story of Jesse Pinkman at the wheel of his car as he drove into the distance, but what El Camino does is prove there is much more to the character and in fact brings to light some new, and returning problems. It strikes a balance of hit-playing and freshness that a lot of cinematic interpretations lack, and if nothing else it should act as a sweet reminder of how good both Aaron Paul and Vince Gilligan were when working in the world of Breaking Bad.