“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” — a worthy epilogue to a monolithic series

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Image courtesy of Netflix

James Domizio, Staff Writer

This review is spoiler-free.

“Breaking Bad” ended in 2013 with one of television’s greatest finales ever, and “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” is an epilogue that exceeds fans’ lofty expectations.

“El Camino” was filmed in secret in 2018 and stars Aaron Paul as long-suffering, beloved Jesse Pinkman. The film feels like a two-hour episode of “Breaking Bad.” The percussive score, contrast-heavy cinematography and tragicomic writing make the film a seamless continuation of the show.

“El Camino” picks up immediately after the ending of “Breaking Bad,” opening during Jesse’s dramatic escape from neo-Nazi capture, and follows his attempt to escape Albuquerque and his criminal past. Paul portrays the character at several different ages and maturity levels and gives a remarkably emotive performance.

The end of Jesse’s arc in “Breaking Bad” was masterfully handled, but “El Camino” is a satisfying final chapter that sees him reforge his identity and take hold of his future. During the film, we see various stages of Jesse’s evolution from his brash youth to a broken, tortured young man. At times, Paul’s performance emulates Bryan Cranston’s.

Just like “Breaking Bad,” “El Camino” isn’t afraid to undercut a serious moment with a joke. That doesn’t mean “El Camino” is a comedy; the film also has elements of drama, action, adventure, crime, thriller and even some Western stylings. 

Vince Gilligan, director of “El Camino” and creator of “Breaking Bad,” elected to shoot the film in widescreen instead of the fullscreen ratio used in the show. The wider aspect ratio is a natural evolution of the television-centric yet cinematic photography of “Breaking Bad.”

The film answers questions the series raised by bringing back familiar characters and locations, and it all feels earned. Todd Alquist, the remorseful psychopath played by Jesse Plemons, delivers some of the film’s funniest and most chilling lines. Robert Forster, who died at 78 on the film’s release day, gives an excellent performance as Ed Galbraithe, a vacuum salesman and “disappearer” who appeared in the show’s penultimate episode.

It’s not just a reunion, though. Scott MacArthur gives a terrifying performance as Neil, a new character who clashes with Jesse. Scott Shepard also gives a strong performance as Neil’s bumbling partner, Casey.

The thrilling camerawork, including a breathtaking birds-eye view sequence, is dynamic and unpredictable. “El Camino” also contains more tilts, pans and rolls than a Wes Anderson film and features some creative play with focus that’ll make photographers swoon. 

Jesse Pinkman is one of modern television’s great characters, and since the beginning of “Breaking Bad,” he only experienced half-freedoms. “El Camino” sees Jesse finally free to make decisions for himself and proves itself a necessary and worthy addition to a show that many found untouchable.

 

“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” is currently streaming on Netflix and will broadcast on AMC in early 2020.