I’ve been fairly quick out of the gate with this one because I really wanted to see this film. I was interested by it. I wouldn’t particularly say that this film was expected or even ‘asked for’ because as far as I’m concerned, as a BIG fan of ‘Breaking Bad’, the show gave quite a satisfying ending that left it open to interpretation without needing any kind of follow up.
I can guarantee that anyone clicking on this will know the backstory of ‘Breaking Bad’ and also the premise of this movie but just for giggles (and to give some context), let’s have a brief history lesson on the plot of ‘Breaking Bad’.
So, ‘Breaking Bad’ follows high school chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) who’s very ‘straight-laced’ and ‘by the book’. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his family; his pregnant wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) and his teenage son, Walter Jr (R.J. Mitte). His family is already struggling financially and Walter’s problems only get worse when he’s diagnosed with lung cancer. He’s not given long to live and with no insurance and no money to leave his family, Walter decides it’s time to ‘break bad’. He tracks down one of his former students and now low-level drug dealer, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to help him with the ‘business side’ of selling his own brand of crystal meth.
Over the course of the five seasons, Walter and Jesse make some powerful friends and enemies and eventually kill those friends and enemies. By the end, Jesse is kidnapped and forced to work for Nazis by making his and Walter’s ‘Blue Sky’ crystal meth. Walter built up his drug empire over the course of the show and when he was discovered by his DEA brother in law, Hank (Dean Norris) to be the drug baron he’s been searching for all this time, his drug empire crumbles and he’s forced to go into hiding.
In the final episode entitled, ‘Felina’, Walter prepares for the end. He leaves his drug money with his former colleagues to give to his children so they will never be hurting for money. He visits Skyler and gives her the location of Hank and Steve Gomez’s bodies and sees his baby daughter, Holly one last time. Walter finally goes to the Nazis and demands to see Jesse but it was all a plot to get all the people who could do Jesse or his family harm in one room so he can set off a machine gun in the trunk of his car and kill everyone.
The last couple of scenes are quite poignant. Although there were five seasons made, the show takes place over two years and Walter’s done a lot of shitty things to Jesse in that time. He’s manipulated him into doing his bidding, his actions have resulted in Jesse being beaten up and hospitalized on more than one occasion, he didn’t help Jane when she was choking on her own vomit when both she and Jesse were high on heroin and he poisoned Jesse’s girlfriend’s son to manipulate Jesse into helping him kill Gustavo Fring.
Walter’s been shot and he’s dying of cancer, so he offers Jesse a gun and the chance to get the revenge that he so desperately wants. But in the end, Jesse drops the gun believing that killing Walter is the easy way out for him and that’s exactly what he wants. He’s not going to be controlled by Walter anymore, and leaves. Or that’s what I took from it anyway. Walter and Jesse leave the Nazi’s hideout and just before Jesse drives away, he and Walter exchange a look. If not a look of gratitude for getting him out then at least a look of acknowledgement for everything that they’ve been through.
The last shot we see of Jesse is of him driving away, supposedly free and he’s laughing and crying manically whilst Walter collapses in the Nazi’s lab as the police arrive, leaving his fate up in the air.
Needless to say, ‘Breaking Bad’ was wildly popular and won several million awards for the makers of the show and its stars. Bryan Cranston was already a successful comedic actor but the role of Walter White gave him a new kind of fame and as for Aaron Paul, I think it’s fair to say that if anyone knows him then it’s because of ‘Breaking Bad’.
After all that and the spin off ‘Better Call Saul’ which is on Netflix and I haven’t watched, why a movie? My thinking is that is if they wanted to ring some more pennies out of ‘Breaking Bad’ then ‘Better Call Saul’ was a good way to do that because the character of Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) did become a fan favourite.
I haven’t watched the film so before it’s released, there’s one very important question that needs to be asked.
Is ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ one giant cash-grab?
If I were a cynical person (which of course, I am), I would say that this whole ‘movie’ thing screams of ‘cash-grab’ and I have one very good point to backup that notion.
Like I said before, no one asked for this. There were no dangling questions hanging off the show except for the big one which we’ll get to later. Everything was neatly and nicely tied up. You could say that it’s for the fans but as a fan, it’s been six years since ‘Breaking Bad’ finished. We’ve moved on.
That’s another thing. ‘Breaking Bad’ was as long as it needed to be. It was a good show but to keep it going on and on would make it less special. Five seasons was a good run so why do we need more story?
“Now we’ll know what happened to Jesse after he left Walter.” But that was the best part of the Finale. I think it’s fair to say that Jesse was the emotional heart of the story. He was the character that we clung to. We understood Walter’s reasons for doing all the things that he did but when he got out of control, it was Jesse that we looked to. Yes, Jesse was a drug dealer and yes, he killed people but he felt remorse for the bad things that he did and Aaron Paul did such a good job in making us feel for Jesse that by the end, when he was free from the Nazis, all we wanted was the best for him. When we saw him crying and laughing in the car, we knew that it was because he knew that he was free. We didn’t know what his future held but it couldn’t be any worse than what he’d endured. Now we know from the trailers that he’s a wanted man and being hunted by the cops. So, what’s the point? It’s makes me wonder if Jesse will ever be free.
Having said that, maybe it isn’t a cash-grab because not only the creator, Vince Gilligan returning to write and direct, but Aaron Paul is also returning as Jesse Pinkman.
You see, if it had just been his friends, Skinny Pete and Badger (Charles Baker and Matt Jones) then I would definitely say ‘cash-grab’ but Vince Gilligan and Aaron Paul speaks volumes. Cash-grab or not, it certainly something that deserves some attention.
*EDITORIAL NOTE* The above section was written on the 10th October, the day before ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ came out. What follows was written today (11/10/2019) after I’ve seen the movie and is the actual review. It contains spoilers. You have been warned.
From what I’ve seen, people really seem to like it, showering it with four and five stars and I’m not seeing it. I’m sorry, I am bitterly disappointed. I have sat here for two hours and I honestly couldn’t tell you the point of that. From what I gathered, it was basically a walking tour of some of the characters and some of the locations from the show whilst very quietly, nothing happened.
So, I suppose we should start at the beginning.
‘El Camino’ starts with Jesse stood by a lake with Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). It must be a flashback. They talk about what they would do when they get out of the meth business.
Cut to Jesse driving away from the Nazi’s hideout. After avoiding the cops, he drives to Skinny Pete’s house where he eats and then collapses on a bed. In the morning, he has a shower and shaves his head.
Just a quick thing, why do they keep having Aaron Paul shave his head? He looks so much cuter with hair. They did it in the show because Jesse was suffering a severe guilt induced breakdown from killing Gale which is fair enough but why, when he’s about to be on the run from the cops, would want to show more of his face? Skinny Pete made a very good point.
Anyway, Jesse says a final goodbye to Skinny Pete and Badger as they risk their freedom to make sure that Jesse is safe. We all saw the trailer of Skinny Pete talking to the police and so this section of the film sets up the trailer which is a nifty idea.
Somehow, the police are seeking Jesse as a person of interest even though he’s been missing for several months and it’s clear that those months in captivity have taken their toll, not just with scars on his body but also psychological scars. How do the police even know about him and why now? No one reported him missing, his own parents didn’t give a shit about him and his friends obviously didn’t go to the police so why is Jesse in so much trouble that law enforcement travel in entire convoys just to apprehend one ‘person of interest’.
I don’t understand why the police are searching for him because from what I remember, the only people who knew about Jesse’s involvement with Walter White was Hank Schrader and Steve Gomez and they’re both dead. They were killed by the Nazi’s who then took Jesse’s confession tape because I remember them laughing at it and presumably, the tape was destroyed along with everything else in that room by the machine gun. So how do the police know so quickly that Jesse had anything to do with the Heisenberg and his drug empire?
Of course, ‘El Camino’ could not exist at all without answering the really big question.
Is Walter White still alive?
No. He isn’t. Jesse learns that his former partner was found dead by the police. And then it just moves on. That’s that. We sort of knew that for Walter’s story to be completed, it ended with his death but the show ended with us not knowing if he’s dead. He could have survived that wound, worse wounds have been shown to be totally survivable in TV land but Walter White needs to die so Jesse can have a fresh start.
But to get a fresh start, Jesse needs money. We then have intermittent flashbacks to another familiar face from the show. Remember Todd? He’s the guy who worked with Jesse and Walter in securing the Methylamine from the train and then murdered a child for no reason, creating some tension in the crew. Jesse got his own back by killing Todd in the final episode but this film wants to show how much of a miserable time Jesse had in captivity even though we as the audience could have gleamed that from the numerous deep scars all over Jesse’s body and face.
We also know that Todd was a total nutcase who had no conscience and could murder people with no remorse whatsoever. So tell me, ‘El Camino’ why are you showing me an epically long flashback where Todd released Jesse from his cage just to get rid of the body of Todd’s cleaning woman? Because she discovered his money and Jesse needs money? Well, other people are looking for his money also and they turn up dressed as police officers and of course they’re not police officers but they knew about Todd’s money. Soon, they know about Jesse, but Jesse manages to sweet talk his way into walking away with almost $250,000.
He takes that money to another familiar face from the show. Do you remember Ed Galbraith? He’s the man who relocates people who are running from the law. He relocated Walter at the end of Season Five and gave him a mocked up chemotherapy? Well about an hour into the film, we get a sense of an overarching plot. Jesse wants a new identity to start again. But Ed is still salty from when he was called out the first time and he refused to take Jesse because he was high. So Jesse pays Ed the $125,000 for coming out the first time and for the second trip, he’s short $1800.
He goes back to his parents (Tess Harper and Michael Bofshever) and tricks them into leaving their house along with the mountains of police cars that are waiting for Jesse to return. He sneaks past the remaining police car and raids his parents safe, taking two guns.
Jesse then goes back to the people who dressed up as cops and came for Todd’s money, Neil (Scott MacArthur) and Casey (Scott Shepherd). Do you know who they are? Nope, neither do I but another fucking flashback tells us that they worked for ‘Kandy Welding’ and they set up the rigging that Jesse was attached to that would stop him from fleeing whilst he was cooking meth for the Nazis.
Jesse wants just $1800 without any trouble but of course, Neil is going to give him trouble and so proposes a ‘winner take all’ duel, wild west style. Jesse wins with his second concealed handgun and kills Casey when he retaliates. He forces the three remaining guys to not tell the police about him, steals Neil and Casey’s money and blows up Kandy Welding to remove any evidence that he was ever there.
We then have another flashback and it just wouldn’t be something even remotely related to ‘Breaking Bad’ if it didn’t at least feature a small cameo from Bryan Cranston and so we have another fucking flashback showing Jesse and Walter eating breakfast after their ‘4 days out’ cooking meth. Walt talks about what Jesse wants to do with his future and proposes Jesse get a degree in business which will give a massive hint as to what Jesse will do with his new identity as well as giving fan service to a number of ‘Breaking Bad’ fans who are pissed off that they confirmed Walter’s death.
Jesse now has his new identity and has been taken to Alaska by Ed where Jesse can start again. After another fucking flashback with Jane (Kristen Ritter), Jesse drives into the wilds of Alaska, finally free of his past life and hopefully on his way to finding some peace.
I won’t say that there’s no interesting insights to be had. There’s a moment in another fucking flashback where Todd asks Jesse to fetch a packet of cigarettes from the glovebox of his El Camino (the car Jesse took at the end of the Finale and the name of this fucking movie) and finds a gun. Jesse has the upper hand, he could shoot Todd and drive away but then Jack Welker will know what’s happening and kill Brock who’s Andrea’s son. Andrea was killed by Todd as a penance for Jesse trying to escape. He was warned that if he tried again, they would kill Brock.
So, Jesse’s stood there with the gun and he breaks down and gives the gun to Todd. Then, in Todd apartment, Jesse is facing off against the two guys who he thinks are police officers. He’s holding Casey hostage and pointing a gun at Neil. Still under the guise of police officers, they convince Jesse that there’s nowhere for him to run. Jesse breaks down once again and I could see him thinking ‘If I give up the gun, I go back in a cage’. And he does give up the gun.
Bottom line – Was ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ a cash-grab?
I think it was. The reason why I say that is it’s very clear that people were going to like it because it’s ‘more Breaking Bad’ and Vince Gilligan knew that. The ‘entertainment news’ stories that were thrown onto the internet after it as first announced there would be a movie was extraordinary. The fan pages with the theories and the questions. The hype of a first trailer and an official release date. Nostalgia for the good thing was all that was keeping this film alive. It’s a whole load of hype followed by a whole load of nothing. Classic cash-grab.
This film was always destined for greatness, but no one has stopped to look at the finer details and actually ask themselves if this film was worth all the hype. From what I saw, a lot of what would have made a good movie has been sacrificed. For example, there’s not even the merest hint of Jesse’s motives to gain a new identity until over an hour into the film. Until then, we have boring flashbacks telling us information that we already know with characters played by actors who were convinced to return and the actual cameos that people wanted to see like Mike and Walt and arguably Jane could have been filmed in the same day for the amount of time they were onscreen.
Jesse doesn’t go through a ‘character arc’ like a movie character would. Jesse is exactly the same character at the start of the film as he is at the end because he went through the ‘character arc’ in the TV show. And it was a bloody good arc.
Also, the main antagonists, the ultimate challenge for Jesse to overcome, were piss-weak at best. These characters hadn’t been established, they weren’t even in the TV show because all of the decent antagonists, all of the proper characters that had been developed over weeks in a TV show… ARE DEAD!
And now we’re getting to it. The finale tied things up so nicely that something like this wasn’t necessary. Walt was a thinker, he planned ahead. He’d made sure that his family were alright for money which was the point of the TV show in the first place and his last action was to save Jesse. Walt went to that compound with the sole intention of gathering up all the people who could do his family or Jesse harm and kill them. As far as the police were concerned, Walt was all they wanted and he made sure that his empire died with him. As far as I’m concerned, when Jesse left that compound in the El Camino, he was a free man. All ties to Walter White and his empire were severed.
All this film has done is put Jesse in exactly the same place, a free man except now all the symbolism is lost because he’s had to go through more pain and heartache just to end up in the same position.
I like Jesse, I wanted the best for him and watching him drive away from the compound, laughing and crying was a satisfying conclusion to his story because it was open ended which was the true genius of the Finale. The audience could place any ending onto Jesse’s story. Just like how they could believe that Walt survived at the end. Now that’s all fucked. Jesse did get the happy ending that he deserved but it sacrificed what made the Finale so special and memorable.
The Netflix synopsis read ‘Fugitive, Jesse Pinkman attempts to outrun his past.’ First of all, is that all we’re getting? And second, what past? Everyone from his past is either on the run or dead. You mean his memories? Yeh, he’s probably always going to have bad memories, he went through some pretty fucked up shit. Again, you’re telling us stuff that we already know.
At best, this is Vince Gilligan reminding us of the most successful thing he’s ever done and at worst, this is all for that sweet Netflix dollar. You can believe that this film gave the story ‘closure’ if you really want to but for me ‘Breaking Bad’ ended six years ago in a blaze of glory.
To finish, if you want to be reminded of the good times, ‘Breaking Bad’ is still on Netflix. Don’t waste your time with this movie, it’s not worth it.
All ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ has done is remind me of the thing that was good without reminding me why it was good. I can’t put it much better than that.