by Jules Banks / Features Editor
Creating movies based off of popular TV shows is no new feat for filmmakers. “The Addams Family”, “Star Trek” and even “South Park” all have several films based off the original television programs, with varying degrees of success. It’s a famously tricky task. Recreating the unique aesthetic that initially draws viewers into the show can be hard to do, and writers and producers that previously had 20-45 minutes per episode are suddenly graced with up to two hours of screen time. However, director Vince Gilligan returned to the “Breaking Bad” universe with poise and intent in 2019’s Netflix original film “El Camino.”
Gilligan has the film smoothly dive right back into where the original series left off, with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) fleeing in his titular El Camino after months of brutal captivity. The jarring leap back into the show’s world does not lend itself to a new audience. Besides the optional four-minute recap at the beginning of the Netflix film, “El Camino” does not try too hard to accommodate for people not familiar with the Breaking Bad series.
However, this doesn’t confuse or detract from the story at all—in fact, the lack of exaggerated backstory is one of the film’s greatest accomplishments. Right from the beginning, the film cuts to the chase of what loyal viewers want to see: Jesse’s story post-Walter White (Bryan Cranston.) This gives the writers and directors more time to focus on the new plotline in the two-hour runtime rather than trying to placate new viewers. There’s enough direct, never-seen-before flashbacks that tie the story together beautifully with Walt Whitman and the original “Breaking Bad” series without being redundant. The story is very clearly Jesse Pinkman—a broken, scared, and lonely Jesse Pinkman, but Jesse nonetheless.
The movie continues to carry the classic “Breaking Bad” style of dark, unsettling humor that is entirely uncomfortable yet incredibly enamouring. Without revealing any spoilers, it can still be said that there is not much to laugh about in this movie, as it jumps between Jesse fighting for an escape from the law to his personal battle with PTSD. However, there are still moments that can shock the viewers into laughter, with dry one-liners that may cause audiences to crack a smile even in the most tense of moments. It’s a necessary skill for a movie that serious to be able to lighten up the room occasionally.
Although the original “Breaking Bad” was praised for its outstanding creativity in formatting and cinematography—and being nominated for multiple awards every single year of its runtime (2008-2013), many of them being in the “Outstanding Directing” category—”El Camino” is jam-packed with hyper-focused and much more cinematic shots taken from angles rarely toyed with in the original series. Creative license was definitely taken for this project, and the bold move paid off: the cinematic beauty keeps the viewer’s eyes captive. Beautiful shots of both New Mexico and Alaska (again, no context for the sake of no spoilers) are so serene the viewer almost forgets the terror that Jesse regularly finds himself in.
“El Camino” is a masterpiece. It walks the risky tightrope walk of a callback to a show that America once loved and a brand new, independent work of art. I commend Aaron Paul for seamlessly diving back into his old role and keeping the movie exciting with his raw performance. If any “Breaking Bad” viewer was even vaguely interested in Jesse Pinkman’s welfare, I recommend that they watch this movie as soon as possible. I also recommend a quick rewatch of the finale—it’s not entirely necessary, but helpful—and then simply settle in to watch the next few weeks of Jesse’s life unfold on screen in a way that viewers would have never expected back in 2013.
Rating: 9 out of 10 torches