Disclaimer: If you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, this review of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie will spoil the series for you because events in this new film take off from where things ended in that series.
Whenever we talk about Breaking Bad, mostly recounting fond memories of what to many of us is the greatest television series of all time, we first raise a toast to Walter White and Bryan Cranston’s performance as Heisenberg and then almost as a passing mention refer to Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman. He’d always been the under-appreciated reluctant Robin struggling to get noticed from behind Batman’s cape.
But Pinkman was the more layered, the more complex character of the two whose battle against the conscience lasted far longer and delved far deeper than White’s. Always tonked around as per Heisenberg’s ever-changing to-accomplish list, Jesse’s anti-hero was also the more tragic one, from losing his girlfriend to being the unwanted son.
All that come into play – in an almost poetic manner – as the two-hour-long El Camino zooms in on Jesse from the moment he escapes the pile of dead bodies at the end of the final episode of the final season of Breaking Bad – in a Chevrolet El Camino. With White gone, he’s the most wanted man for the police in Albuquerque and is all over the news.
Less a standalone film and more like a two-episode extension of the TV series, El Camino brings back all the narrative elements that made the original show such a massive pop-culture phenomenon.
Writer-director Vince Gilligan cuts back and forth between all the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that had Jesse locked up in a cage towards the end of the show and his current attempt to skip town. Familiar faces – Skinny Pete, Badger, Todd, et al – return to either facilitate his escape or foil it.
The first hour is unhurried, almost meditative, in the way Jesse mulls over every move even as he jogs his memory almost in horror. The action bits come in the last hour and propels proceedings towards an ending that will warm the heart of a true Breaking Bad fan.
Having said that, El Camino doesn’t really add a whole lot much to the world of the show. And not because Walter’s not around anymore. Because the six-year-old question “Whatever happened to Jesse Pinkman?” is answered in a way which creates more of a sense of deja vu rather than a new experience.
In fact, it might even disappoint those who expected Jesse to up the ante in a White-less world. That last shot of Pinkman from the show, going through a whole gamut of emotions behind the wheel, had sent such a cathartic tremor that one imagined an all-new life for the man after that ride. It’s like if that frame wouldn’t have frozen and you got to see where Thelma and Louise and their car ended up, would it have made the film any better?
This film, which had first started out as a short, after all is “a gift to fans” and should be watched keeping that spirit in mind. If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad or somehow managed to not like it, El Camino is not for you. For everyone else, it’s like an irresistible mash-up of some deleted scenes from the original show and a few new scenes donning the same Pork Pie hat.