REVIEW: ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ is The Perfect Swansong for Jesse Pinkman

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El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, the Netflix spin-off feature, is a neo-western crime drama directed and written by Vince Gilligan, and produced by Aaron Paul, Mark Johnson, Melissa Bernstein, Charles Newirth and Gilligan. The movie acts as a sequel to the finale of Breaking Bad, taking place right after Jesse Pinkman escaped captivity from the demented Neo-Nazi gang who forced him to make the signature ‘Crystal Blue’ meth. Unlike the original show, this film solely focuses on Jesse,  providing even more of an insight into his tortured mind as he attempts to avoid authorities and start his life anew.

The film starts with a flashback sequence which shows Jesse having a heart-to-heart with fan-favorite Mike Ermentraut (Jonathan Banks) who asks Jesse what he’s going to do with his share of the drug money. It’s a brilliant opening sequence that introduces a dream goal for Jesse to achieve while also making a point that he can’t right all his wrongs. Gilligan then thrusts viewers back to the last moment that audiences had seen Jesse in Breaking Bad, screaming with a mix of emotions – joy, relief, pain, fear. The moment dissipates and Jesse automatically recedes to a cautious state as a fleet of police drive pass on their way to the meth lab from ‘Felina.’

This intense moment is followed up by a scene full of levity as the film reintroduces Jesse’s friends and dealers Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones) whose classic banter is cut short by the reintroduction of their down beaten friend. After recuperating for a night, Skinny Pete creates a solid plan to help Jesse escape and tells him the reason is that he’s “his hero.”

The narrative of the film flips from Jesse attempting to retrieve enough money to escape once and for all, with flashbacks from Jesse’s past, namely while he was under captivity by the Neo-Nazi gang led by Jack Welker. This reintroduces the character of Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons), Jack’s sociopathic and soft-spoken nephew, who asks for Jesse’s help with burying a body.

The flashbacks in the movie could be seen as a way just to include older characters as one last hurrah, but that’s absolutely not the case here. Instead, the flashbacks help to establish Jesse’s state of mind and the trauma he had endured in the year under that intense captivity. It also allows Paul to flex his acting skills by portraying Jesse at different points in his life, which again informs the character arc that this troubled soul has endured.

If anything, El Camino is a love letter to the character of Jesse Pinkman. It’s no secret that writer and creator Gilligan has a soft spot for Jesse, having spared him from initially being killed in the first season of Breaking Bad and this movie takes it to the next level. By having two hours focused squarely on him, Paul delivers in absolute spades by portraying a broken man looking for a way out and a new start.

 

Jesse Pinkman is a character who has always been held captive by others, whether that’s emotionally by Walt or physically by the gang, so the audience naturally wants to see him succeed too. However, that doesn’t mean that the character can escape blame for his misdeeds. An emotional phone conversation to Jesse’s parents provides a solid ending to their relationship and relays his guilt.

Breaking Bad always had a western heart and our outlaw at the center of El Camino is Jesse himself, who has one of the best on-screen ‘Western’ moments in recent years. It’s pure, unbridled tension and excitement from Gilligan.

Although every single actor brings their a-game to this feature, it’s also painfully apparent that there has been a time difference between the series and this film. With some actors looking noticeably older, some dialogue such as Mike calling Jesse a ‘teenage retiree’ can throw you for a loop, with Paul being a 40-year-old man. While Paul does his best to distinguish these moments with his acting chops, it’s still quite distracting from the overall tale. Gilligan had previously mentioned that audiences wouldn’t need to be well versed with Breaking Bad to watch the film. However, a lot of the powerhouse moments in the movie comes from the relationship that the audiences have built with Jesse over the span of the previous show.

Overall, El Camino proves that Vince Gilligan still hasn’t lost his touch. It’s a project which could quite easily have been a cash-cow sequel full of tedious callbacks, but instead, it is a touching love letter to Jesse Pinkman. The film even provides a notion of hope which is extremely rare for a Gilligan project and could be the closest thing to a ‘happy ending’ in the Breaking Bad universe. While there are distracting elements due to the nature of when this project was filmed compared to the timeline it’s supposed to take place; they don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of this western adventure.

Fans of Breaking Bad will be delighted with El Camino, which not only adds to the world of the show – but as a love letter to Jesse Pinkman, even manages to improve upon an ending many thought couldn’t be beaten.

El Camino is available to watch on Netflix now. 

Rating: 9/10