Review: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie


Breaking Bad TV series spoilers follow.

Six years after the finale of Breaking Bad aired on AMC, series creator Vince Gilligan returned to one of the franchise’s lead characters with a feature-length film, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, to firmly conclude this portion of the Breaking Bad story. (This shouldn’t be confused with lead character Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), however, whose story is continued in AMC’s Better Call Saul.) Gilligan’s successfully returned to his signature story with Saul Goodman, but couldn’t generate the same results with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

Jesse’s story picks up where Breaking Bad left off, with Jesse racing away from the deadly crime scene where his partner/toxic-father-figure Walter White massacred Jesse’s captor Todd (Jesse Plemons), his Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen), and their white supremacist associates. Jesse, wanted by the law in Todd’s El Camino, must find a spot to lie low and ditch the distinctive car.

Jesse seeks out Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones), his old drug crew and loyal friends. Jesse spends the night at Skinny’s house to eat, sleep, shave, shower, and change cars. Skinny and Badger gift Jesse a few thousand dollars to see him on his way. Following the pitstop at Skinny’s house, Jesse returns to Todd’s house to find his captor’s secret stash of money. With enough cash, Jesse can escape Alberqueque and Walt’s shadow once and for all.

Although El Camino cuts a few corners in the interest of time and pace, it ticks boxes that portend a Gilligan-led production; the show’s obsession with minuscule details, ironic and insult-based humor, and real-world ramifications (PTSD in particular) are all prevalent here. Regrettably, Gilligan goes too far in the search for fan service; El Camino features callbacks aplenty. While the return of Todd, Skinny Pete, and Ed (Robert Forster) are crucial to creating a coherent story, it’s hard to justify any of the more notable cameos, which I will not spoil here.

Small continuity problems are thrown to the wind in hopes that fan absolution can clear them of wrongdoing. Plemons couldn’t be bothered to return to his previous weight as Todd; a bald cap sits bumpy and elongated on a character’s forehead; worst of all, another character calls Jesse a “teenage retiree,” while, back in the real world, Paul is a 40-year-old man.

Forster, transcendent in Jackie Brown, portrays the humdrum Ed with undistinguished professionalism in the final role before his death. Plemons’ unnerving yet pragmatic Todd carries El Camino’s tension, a sensation it manages to generate with ease, with the notable exception of its last conflict. The final boss, Neil Kandy (Scott MacArthur), is Gilligan’s last-gasp effort at a new Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) for Jesse. Neil doesn’t inspire any of the ominous peril brought on by Breaking Bad’s previous villains. The showdown between Neil and Jesse is forced, nonsensical, and bizarrely out-of-place. Gilligan sacrifices realism and immersion for symbolism and a definitive climax.

El Camino runs like three condensed episodes of television, creating a single, disjointed film. Although Gilligan comfortably hits Breaking Bad’s standard beats—including its unparalleled, agonizing, stomach-turning stress—he added a period where there was once an ellipsis. The ending of Jesse’s story was better left untouched.