El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie picks up right where season five of Breaking Bad left fans six years ago, with Walter White dead and Jesse Pinkman finally free, his new destination unknown.
The new movie is highly reminiscent of the series. Written and directed by Vince Gilligan, the original showrunner, the film is like another episode in the series with much faster pacing.
Pinkman has been released from some of his demons: his captors and White himself. But his torture is far from over, and his escape from his old life is all we care about. However, that doesn’t mean old characters don’t come back — many of them make a reappearance, picking up their old roles right where they left off.
There is no lack of emotional trauma. There is little difference in the movie from the last few seasons of Breaking Bad, where the audience watched as Pinkman lost everything. The overly generous use of flashbacks refuses to let us forget Pinkman’s abuse: he watches his girlfriend get shot in the head, he’s kept in a cage by those he once worked with, he desperately tries to escape a life he’s responsible for.
There is the same note of cruel irony in the way the other characters treat him, with a sense of odd humor and awkward pauses as they commit atrocities.
“Please don’t, you know, make me feel worse than I already do,” says one man after showing Pinkman the murdered body of his cleaning lady.
It was just as painful to watch the awkwardness of Pinkman dealing with mass murders and a drug empire as it was the murders themselves. It’s something fans loved about the show, but it can churn out a painfully slow burn. El Camino follows that formula, and its position as a thriller demands constantly rising stakes and action. The dark humor is as entertaining as it is horrifying.
Pinkman’s voice is slow and gravelly. Every word sounds painful. It’s reminiscent of White’s tone, not the Pinkman voice we’re used to from the early days of Breaking Bad: the higher pitch mixed with a scowl.
About half of the film is dedicated to Pinkman dealing with the direct repercussions of the series finale, and the other half is composed of flashbacks to remind us of just how miserable his life really was. Lots of the film’s runtime is spent listening to news broadcasts and terrifyingly close encounters with authorities.
The editing is beautifully, exquisitely done — no opportunity to create visual irony was overlooked. El Camino is straightforward. Missing from the film is the constant stress of choosing what to do: the moral questions, the wondering who to trust.
Jesse is more or less on his own. He has little to lose and no one to turn to. The movie is two straight hours of him trying to escape to a different place where his life can start over new. Let’s pray he gets there.