Breaking Bad. Even if you’ve never seen it, you have likely heard its name mentioned and Vince Gilligan’s crime drama thriller series deserves every inch of its mountainous reputation as one of television’s greatest shows. For five seasons we saw a good man become a criminal kingpin and with this rise came the fall of everything else. When it all ended in 2013, critics and fans alike were in awe and the show went out with a (literal) bang. But, while Walter ‘Heisenberg’ White’s (Bryan Cranston) story came to a close, the story of his fellow meth cook and former student Jesse (Aaron Paul) was left free but unconcluded… El Camino seeks to changes that.
Picking up virtually where we last left things, Jesse is driving wildly into an uncertain future, as news of the bullet-strewn chaos that ended the series is spreading and he suddenly becomes the most wanted man in America. But can he escape this life once and for good, despite all the obstacles before (and indeed behind) him?
The biggest fear with El Camino was always how it would follow such a seemingly fitting conclusion and whether the unthinkable would happen and this Netflix feature would actually tarnish the legacy of its acclaimed series. Well, writer/director Gilligan – by his own admission actually – realises this didn’t need to exist and instead of overthinking it, sticks to what he does best, in turn providing essentially a two hour expansion to final episode “Felina”. El Camino does not strictly do anything that Breaking Bad hasn’t before but that’s absolutely alright because what this film does offer is one final chance to experience Breaking Bad and say one last (at least for now) farewell.
The narrative is slow and steady, wearing its western genre influence proudly and conjuring up some of the kind of taut and gripping sequences we have come to expect from Gilligan. The story is inter-cut with flashbacks and cameos (all of which are sublime) and fans will delight in seeing some small developments, while newcomers are not given an easy ride as the film spares no time to explain all that has come before. However, while fans spend their time relishing the memories of a classic show and saying goodbye, arguably newcomers will very much be encouraged to go back and see what all the fuss was about (trust me it’s very worth it). El Camino is really Jesse’s story and while it may not radically alter anything, in fact it leaves things on a very similar note (albeit with a more hopeful twist), this film powerfully shows us that redemption may not come easy but that does not mean it won’t arrive at all.
Aaron Paul has never been better and while Jesse bares the physical scars of his rough journey, Paul really expresses the emotional scars as well, as Jesse develops as a man and we are fully invested in him escaping the seemingly inescapable. Now, I won’t go into who appears and who doesn’t (stand back spoilers!) but needless to say all who do fit back into their parts like a glove and it often feels like El Camino is a series of great scenes in the series…again that is a big compliment. Although I will single out player one, in light of recent tragic events, as this movie now acts as a wonderful send-off performance for the recently passed and much missed Robert Forster (back as Ed ‘the disappearer’ Galbraith) who shows here, as he did throughout his entire career, how he was an actor who always raised the calibre of any scenes and features he worked on.
It is so good being back and the fantastic El Camino sits nicely among the Breaking Bad legacy and feels like two more good episodes in an always riveting TV landmark.