There hasn't been a more beloved, universally-praised TV show in the past decade than AMC's "Breaking Bad." That show, which ended in 2013, gets a new lease on life, as does its protagonist Jesse Pinkman, in "El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie," a fitting epilogue to one hell of a ride.
NOTE: If you consider discussing plot points of a show that ended six years ago as a "spoiler," than please read-on with caution...as by that definition, this is NOT a "spoiler-free" review. I won't reveal too much of what goes on in "El Camino," but the last paragraph of this review DOES speculate as to the future of this universe beyond this film.
Dropping on Netflix early this morning (at 3:00 am EST, to be exact), we're given a brief "previously on" to get people caught up with where the show left off when it ended back in September of 2013. But let's face it: If you haven't watched "Breaking Bad" (and if you haven't...why the heck not???), then you stand no chance of understanding what's going on in this film. This highly-secretive production was shot most in Albuquerque, New Mexico, under the working title of "Greenbrier." Despite taking fifty days to shoot, writer/director and show creator Vince Gilligan managed to keep things under wraps, and even star Aaron Paul publicly misdirected public attention, telling the press that he was off shooting "some small indy film."
Well in many regards, Paul wasn't wrong. "El Camino" has its fair share of guns and an explosion or two, but it is mostly a small, introspective film about a guy who desperately is trying to escape his past. As Jesse Pinkman, Aaron Paul gives a tremendous performance as a man trying to pick up the pieces of his life, that lie scattered around his broken, tragic existence.
When we last saw Jesse Pinkman, he had just been set free by his longtime mentor, friend and recent arch-enemy, Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Pinkman had basically been enslaved by a group of white supremacists and forced to cook meth for them, but after White slaughtered them all, he set Pinkman free, who got behind the wheel of an El Camino and laughing hysterically, sped off into the night. In the time since the show has ended, many of us had hoped and believed that this send-off was Gilligan's way of giving Jesse his "ride off into the sunset" moment...he definitely deserves peace after everything he's endured. But what we are reminded of in "El Camino" is that nothing comes easy for Jesse Pinkman, and that it is not so easy to simply leave your past behind.
The good news is that the film feels like "Breaking Bad," for the most part, from the look, to the settings, and down to the bits of hilarious dialogue that Gilligan sprinkles throughout. But this is mostly a gloomy, gritty film. Through radio broadcasts and TV interviews, we hear of the aftermath of Walter White's demise, and from the overwhelming police response still on the hunt for their "person of interest," we see that the authorities are not effing around. In that sense, "El Camino" feels like a prison-break movie, where the prison is this entire life that Jesse Pinkman crafted for himself, full of madmen, killers, thieves, thugs and meth. He needs to get out, and this movie is his escape plan.
It's also part revenge-movie. As we get more details (via flashback sequences) about some of what Jesse had to go through while in captivity, we see him encounter some of the same people that did him wrong. This flashback device is lame in most cases, but in this instance it gives Gilligan a reason to bring back several fan-favorites, big and small, and to see them in new and interesting lights.
What I loved most of all was that Gilligan doesn't let Pinkman off the hook so easy, and in this epilogue, he once again reinforces the main theme of the show, that any one of us "normal" people don't quite know what we're capable of, until our family or our own survival is on the line. Speaking of lines, Pinkman crosses many of them on his journey through "El Camino."
But is this it for the "Breaking Bad" franchise? I mean, I know that "Better Call Saul" is still going on with a new season coming in 2020, but will we see more "Breaking Bad" movies in the future? More from Jesse Pinkman? Moreso than the series finale, this chapter does seem to be a bit more final when it comes to everybody's favorite meth-lab assistant, but if we've learned anything, it's that you can't ever quite escape from your past.
Genre: Action, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours and 2 minutes.
Starring: Aaron Paul, Matt Jones, Charles Baker, Jonathan Banks, Larry Hankin.
Written and Directed by Vince Gilligan (creator/show-runner of "Breaking Bad," feature-film directorial debut).
"El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie" is available on Netflix as of Friday, October 11th, 2019.
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