Film Review: “El Camino”

The Netflix Originals movie sequel to “Breaking Bad” preserves the original ending of the TV series while also acting as a fulfilling epilogue to the show’s lore

Six years ago, Vince Gilligan’s highly acclaimed TV series, “Breaking Bad,” came to a close. The ultra-violent crime drama sees chemistry teacher turned meth dealer, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and his partner/former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) as they navigate the dangerous criminal underbelly of Albuquerque, New Mexico in an attempt to expand their drug operation. Their illegal escapades cause them to clash with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration as well as a variety of ruthless gangs that ultimately culminates in a gut-wrenching, action-packed series finale.

Given the explosive and ambitious nature of the final episode, any attempt at creating a direct continuity of “Breaking Bad” would be a risky bet. However, it looks like Netflix has beaten the odds via its release of “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” a masterfully executed follow-up that preserves the spirit and atmosphere of the famous meth-centered show. It sees Gilligan once again at the helm as the principal writer and director,Paul reprising his role as Pinkman, and much of the supporting cast returning for the final time. The film serves as a sort of epilogue, delving into Pinkman’s journey in escaping his criminal past and starting a second life. In doing so, “El Camino” wastes no time in picking up after the events in “Felina”, the final episode in the series. The initial shot in the film is one of Pinkman speeding away in a Chevy El Camino, screaming with a mix of anger, exhilaration, and joy as he escapes the fateful crime scene where “Breaking Bad” concluded.

Despite the time between the end of the series and the release of the movie sequel, Gilligan manages to pull off a seamless transition between the two and reels the audience back into a moment that ended six years earlier. The sets and props within the film are immaculately constructed and exactly reflect the feel and atmosphere of the gritty criminal underbelly of souhwestern America as exhibited in Gilligan’s original show. Moreover, the returning cast and even the costumes that they don echo this sense of continuity in the “Breaking Bad” universe. Nevertheless, perhaps what truly establishes Gilligan’s film as a notable follow-up to his prior work is the once-again brilliant and dynamic performance that Paul delivers as Pinkman.

Paul is able to capture the brokeness, desperation, and conscience of a man haunted by his past, while also conveying the classic flashes of self-confidence and excitement that have come to be associated with Pinkman’s character.

Beyond its fitting nature as an epilogue for the series, “El Camino” is also an exceedingly well-shot film. The ambitious attention to cinematography is uncanny as camera angle, movement, and distance all operate in conjunction to emphasize the underlying emotions and tensions present in character interactions in each respective scene. Even more impressive is how the director is able to transition between scenes. Gilligan’s propensity to use match cuts in between shots of flashbacks and the conventional linear storyline allow him to interweave past and present in an extremely fluid manner. In doing so, he is able to convey the idea that “El Camino” is not only a story about Jesse’s desire to escape from the authorities but also his desperation to free himself of the memories formed in the events of “Breaking Bad”.

While Gilligan’s ability to create effortless cohesion between his two bodies of work is certainly a point of praise, it does come at a cost for the audience. Even though the director utilizes the same cast and references notable situations in his first series, he devotes little time to supplying with any contextual information regarding the story arc behind the film and the characters within. “El Camino” is a movie made under the assumption that the individuals viewing it have watched the entirety of “Breaking Bad” previously. Consequently, it is apparent that the film is made for a very niche audience, namely those who are not only watched the director’s infamous drug dealing crime drama but are also die-hard fans of it.

“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story” is a film that very much lives up to its title. It is a companion piece to the series “Breaking Bad” and cannot be understood or viewed without seeing the series that compelled its creation. Its ability to connect with the original show in terms of plot, themes, and character development are what make the film so impressive. Yet this continuity between Gilligan’s two media ventures can be confusing for newer viewers unfamiliar with the universe. Hence, while “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” is a stellar film, it takes an adequate understanding of “Breaking Bad” to truly comprehend and appreciate it.

Director: Vince Gilligan
Starring: Aaron Paul
Release Date: Oct 11, 2019 on Netflix
Rated: TV-MA
Grade: A-