To be honest, I haven’t given Breaking Bad much thought since it ended in 2013. I really enjoyed the show – especially so much of the inventive cinematography used throughout it’s run via the vision of director Vince Gilligan. I also really loved Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul, not to mention several of the supporting characters like Jonathan Banks. Still, the show ended – and over the last six years, much of the show was forgotten by me. Thus, I took my time getting to the Netflix original El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019), and while it would have definitely benefitted from a re-watch of the show or at least reading a recap, I ended up being sucked back into Jesse’s world and really enjoying the film.
El Camino wasn’t really a priority, but once I was back in the world of Breaking Bad I was hooked again.
El Camino picks up right at the end of the last episode as Jesse (Paul) flees the scene of Walter White’s revenge. Driving an El Camino in a near manic attempt at escaping the police and dealing with the trauma he’d experienced, he seeks sanctuary, initially finding temporary relief with old friends. The problem he faces, however, is that in order to do anything in this world you need to have money – and if that “anything” is illegal, you need lots of it.
Despite six years passing, Paul steps right back into the character that made many people love him and long to see him in other roles. He’s been in some things, but nothing that has been as successful as his time on the hit TV series. It was great being back with Jesse, and I’d forgotten how much he changed over the course of Breaking Bad. Movies like this can feel a bit too inconsequential or even pandering, for the sake of fan service. While there certainly are a few moments like this in the film, the conclusion of it was very satisfying. Jesse’s arc never felt final, and El Camino manages to put a cap on his story that will leave anyone who previously wanted more experiencing fulfillment.
What I loved most about returning to this universe was Gilligan’s cinematography. The compositions he comes up with are sometimes simple and elegant, but the logistic of many of the shots are just baffling. The long shots he’ll cut to, even in small rooms where the camera will suddenly be in the adjacent room looking through a doorway that frames the characters just inside of it, are often staggering and simply innovative. There were several times in the series where a camera would be in a place that seemed absolutely impossible for a camera to be at in order to see the world from a unique perspective. The most memorable one of these was from the show when we were looking through the burner of a stove, through the pot boiling on that burner to see a character’s face. There isn’t anything quite that innovative, but that style shows up and I just really enjoy so many of the shots in this film. The TV show and the film are full of gorgeous frames and innovative compositions that are always worth revisiting.
If you loved (or at least enjoyed) the show and empathized with Jesse, then you definitely need to check out this movie. Many of the characters you’ll remember, or at least know vaguely, return in some capacity as Jesse completes his anti-hero’s journey. This was a film that I had no real sense of urgency to see, but I’m glad that I finally caved and gave it a watch. El Camino earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.