El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)

BREAKING BAD arguably ended with its third-to-last episode, the undeniable climax of the whole series. That episode, directed by Rian Johnson, was rightfully lauded, and showrunner Vince Gilligan tends to talk about it as the best episode the series did. After that, there was a contemplative, almost subversive kind of penultimate episode, then the very neat and very tidy finale. Some years later comes this film – an epilogue to an epilogue? It is very hard to come up with an argument for this film existing, and most of them come down to praise for the actors and the crew, the joy of creating the television series, wanting to do something for the tenth anniversary…not so much any story-generative reasons.

[spoilers for the show and the film follow]

And so, while the film is certainly well-made, well-performed, more or less well-executed, there’s an inescapable air of uselessness to the whole thing. The emotion on Jesse’s face in the existent finale renders this whole affair at best unnecessary, and at worst dampening. This is highlighted in the flashback structure of the film, which feels less like an odyssey into Jesse’s soul, and more an excuse to reunite actors that could logically be reunited. There are properly good scenes in here, particularly the flashbacks that reunite Jesse and the sociopathic Todd (taken together, these could make a compelling little thriller short film of their own), but it’s all too nostalgia-focused.

The new visual style looks gorgeous and cinematic, sparkling with clarity, and Gilligan does find interesting ways to go about the visual storytelling. The problem lies more in the script, perhaps because it was developed by Gilligan alone, instead of in the collaborative writer’s room format the television series was. What’s so odd about all this is the successor prequel series to BREAKING BAD, BETTER CALL SAUL, arguably transcends that show, finding a new story to tell that uses continuity to propel rich new developments. Those behind this film presumably should have known how to go about creating worthwhile successor television, so one wonders why this film feels so unnecessary. Were there no more interesting stories about Jesse to tell?

Ultimately, I already found the BREAKING BAD finale overly neat and functionally useless, so I have no visceral objection to this film having those same problems. And I do prefer this film to that finale, as at least it has more charm, and there’s a righteousness in wrangling the narrative to be purely the subjugated Jesse’s. But the film feels too much a fetch quest, too rudderless, to really justify the series extending further out from its climax. At least it’s a good time. Three pepperoni pizzas, and a western duel.

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