Review – El Camino

(N.B.: No spoilers for El Camino, but a couple huge ones for Breaking Bad.)

For Comixtreme/CXPulp, I reviewed Breaking Bad for a while, right up to the end. And it had one of the all time great endings for any TV show, because it closed the circle of its story. We began with Walt, and we ended with him. Jesse was a loose end, but that seemed okay, because while he was the heart of the series, he had been so abused, driving off into the unknown screaming was probably for the best. Walt poisoned the lives of everyone around him, if he didn’t outright kill them. Getting out of his shadow alive was no small feat.

So I wasn’t all that excited about the Breaking Bad movie, because I was good with where things were left. Why gild the lily? But curiosity got the best of me, and I watched El Camino.

First thing I noticed? How much I missed Badger and Skinny Pete. They add needed humor to some very heavy scenes involving PTSD ridden, terrified Jesse, who shows up on their doorstep about a second away from a complete psychotic break. But of course these guys aren’t just Jesse’s dirtbag friends, they’re his family, and they try their best to take care of him, even though they have no idea how. They just know some bad shit happened, and from the news, they know he’s wanted as an associate of the late Walter White. These early scenes are brutal stuff, because the damage done to Jesse is so raw and out there. He was tortured physically, emotionally, and mentally, and been held in neo-Nazi captivity for a long time. That is going to do some damage.

If the rest of the film only briefly checks in on it from time to time, that is actually okay with me, because it is so horrible the movie would be dragged down by this. After all, it’s hard to be in recovery while also dodging the law, and the other skeevy elements still at play in the seedy Albuquerque underbelly of Breaking Bad. When Jesse kind of comes back to himself, more or less, El Camino becomes a sort of neo-noir about a man who just wants to disappear.

It also wants to be a kind of western homage, which isn’t doesn’t carry off with much grace. But I was surprised how quickly I was sucked back in again, as Jesse tries to figure out the best way to leave fast, and maybe get a smidgen of justice. Just a tiny bit, as many of the people who tormented him are already dead. Well, most of them. Jesse may have been the heart of Breaking Bad, but his time under Walter’s wing has not exactly left him helpless, although he’s still not the complete badass he would like to be. It’s a thin line, but executed well.

There are quite a few flashbacks, as you might expect, but honestly they work well. While Jesse’s treatment at the hands of the blandly evil Todd and his neo-nazi family is awful, thankfully some of the other flashbacks are more character related, such as the flashback to young, snotnosed Jesse and just starting to turn Walter, before they became punching bag and monster respectively. It reminds you of the potent chemistry Cranston and Paul had, which made their odd couple pairing so successful. It also gives you a final glance of Walter’s humanity, as he tries to talk Jesse into going to college, the last gasp of the man he used to be.

Can Jesse get beyond being the foil to a man who was honestly the plague in human form? The movie seems to saying we need to face our past to get beyond it, which is true enough, although it doesn’t present it as easy or even completely doable. I was afraid it was going to be a nostalgia trip, and honestly it’s not. It’s a pretty good, gritty B movie about escaping your demons by literally escaping yourself, and the shadow of a monster who almost destroyed you.

While I’m still ready to argue that Better Call Saul is actually better than Breaking Bad – yes, it is goddamn it! – at least this movie made me think about watching Breaking Bad again. So maybe it is kind of a nostalgia trip after all.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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