El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Review by Roxanne Sancto @r_sancto

Directed by

Vince Gilligan

Starring

Aaron Paul Jesse Plemons Krysten Ritter

Anticipation.

Jesse Pinkman is back, bitch!

Enjoyment.

Breaking Bad-esque rollercoaster of emotions.

In Retrospect.

Not necessary but more than welcome

Jesse Pinkman returns in the long-awaited big-screen send off for one of television’s best-loved characters.

Some TV series are a bit like summer flings. You settle in for a season of cosy nights together enjoying mild flirtations and a few good cliffhangers, but you’re left indifferent as to whether you’ll be tuning in for more next year. Others feel like your first real love – the ones you pine for and live to see weekly. The ones that, when mentioned, still bring a twinkle to your eyes.

These are the kind of shows that became so much more than seasonal flings – they were deep, required patience and commitment. After having taken up so much of our emotions, they leave a massive hole in our hearts – and our weekly watching menu – when they come to their natural – or premature – end.

Breaking Bad was a first-love kind of show, one that was mourned by huge and diverse fanbase when its final episode aired in September 2013. The whole world became involved in the destructive relationship between chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin, Walter “Heisenberg” White (Bryan Cranston) and his former student and cooking-mentee, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

After five strong and captivating seasons that gave us legendary characters such as Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) and, of course, (Better Call) Saul (Bob Odenkirk), their stories reached – mostly – satisfactory conclusions. Though many viewers probably would have experienced great schadenfreude in seeing Jesse pull the trigger on the man that played such an important and devastating part in his life, most of us found peace in his walking away to let Heisenberg die slowly and on his own.

Revisiting old characters by ways of remakes or movie spin-offs has become a dangerous trend that often ends in disappointment – especially when series creators and writers strain too hard either to steer away from or stick to the original format. The balance needs to be just right and, fortunately, creator Vince Gilligan has nailed it with El Camino. The long-awaited feature-length follow-up to Breaking Bad brings us up to speed with Jesse’s journey since we last saw him broken, screaming and driving towards uncertainty.

The film starts where the show left off. Terrified and exhausted, Jesse escapes a scene of total carnage and ends up at the only place that’s safe, with the only people he can trust. Badger and Skinny Pete, friends who knew him from before he had ever even entertained the idea of becoming one of the men behind America’s biggest meth-amphetamine ring. It becomes clear from the very moment they see his marked face and tortured body that he will never be the same again. Here is a man who had already given up on life throughout the last season, one who has lost more than he could have ever gained from creating an empire. And suddenly, he is given another chance.

El Camino is a slow-burn: quietly action packed and true to the expressionist style of storytelling that glued so many viewers to Breaking Bad. Like its predecessor, it often speaks through the New Mexico landscapes and the characters’ body language louder than it does through words (think, ‘Fly’; season three, episode 10). There is no need for Jesse to verbalise his trauma. It is written on his face, gradually building in his body and manifesting in a strength that can only be summoned in survival situations.

His flashbacks, by ways of minimal verbal information and plenty of visual cues, reveal the humiliation and physical pain he lived through at the hands of the Welker gang’s men – originally hired by Heisenberg, to kill him. Even more so, these heart-wrenching images emphasise how normalised this brutality and cold-heartedness becomes to those in the business of building drug empires. How easy it becomes to kill to silence.

“Life is what you make it,” Todd (Jesse Plemons), one of Jesse’s former captors, tells him after forcing him to bury another body in the middle of the desert. And while we can all agree that Jesse made some poor choices in his life, particularly where Heisenberg was concerned, we know the life he led – the life he is still leading now – was never part of his original design. Jesse was always the moral compass of the series, and even now, after having been kept in a cage and tied to a chain, we can still feel the tainted purity radiating from his broken heart.

El Camino is neither a full movie nor an extended episode. Think of it more as a love-letter to a character who is as beloved as the series as a whole: a hopeful man now known as Driscoll, trying to make a new life.

Published 12 Oct 2019

Tags: Aaron Paul Breaking Bad El Camino Vince Gilligan

Anticipation.

Jesse Pinkman is back, bitch!

Enjoyment.

Breaking Bad-esque rollercoaster of emotions.

In Retrospect.

Not necessary but more than welcome

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