A sequel, of sorts, to Breaking Bad, following Jesse Pinkman after the events captured in the finale of Breaking Bad. Jesse is now on the run, as a massive police manhunt for him is in operation. (IMDb)
Director: Vince Gilligan
Writers: Vince Gilligan
Stars: Aaron Paul, Jonathan Banks, Matt Jones, Charles Baker, Jesse Plemons
How much you like the idea of a Breaking Bad movie probably comes down to how cynical you are about it. Is this whole exercise just a shameless money grab? Or is there a real narrative reason to continue this story just a little bit longer? Everyone’s going to have a different opinion on this, and I’ve seen multiple reviews that mention how “unnecessary” the story of El Camino is. It’s not something that adds a lot more detail or plot over what we already know about the ending of Breaking Bad, but is that the only way we decide if something’s needed or not? I came into the movie with my fair share of doubts about it, but it won me over.
Vince Gilligan is a damn good screenwriter and filmmaker (something we’ve known at least since Breaking Bad but that has been further proved by Better Call Saul’s excellence) and this movie makes a case for itself by digging deep into Jesse Pinkman’s emotions and state of mind. He may have been physically freed at the end of the show, but it’s here that we see him work to free himself from the pain and trauma he’s endured. He’s a character who deserves to get a chance to move on after what he’s been through, and this movie serves as a great opportunity to complete the story of Jesse (who, let’s be honest, was left behind a bit by Breaking Bad at the very end). The stunning look and soundtrack of the show both return here, and Aaron Paul delivers an outstanding performance. All in all, it’s a satisfying and gripping tale of a man who is haunted by the past but trying to create a new future for himself.
Emotional and physical scars
The Jesse we see in El Camino is far from the one we came to know on Breaking Bad. His face and body are covered in scars, and he’s largely quiet and fearful. He’s living with the consequences of his capture and torture at the hands of Jack (Michael Bowen) and his gang. After his escape, he heads back to Badger and Skinny Pete (Matt Jones and Charles Baker), who prove to be as good friends as they ever were. They provide Jesse with a place to sleep, and we soon see how much post-traumatic stress he’s dealing with. The movie is full of flashbacks to show us just how terrible his captivity was, not only the awful physical conditions he was kept in but the horrendous psychological torture Todd (played by Jesse Plemons) put him through.
Todd plays a large role in El Camino. The sociopathic character was a big part of making Jesse’s life so miserable, and was the one who killed Jesse’s former girlfriend Andrea when Jesse last attempted to escape and refused to cook for the neo-Nazi gang. While it was years ago that this all happened on Breaking Bad, it’s worth remembering that Jesse only just got his revenge on Todd moments before this movie starts and it makes sense that he turns up a lot in the flashbacks. This pain is all very present in Jesse’s mind.
It’s perhaps unsurprising given how stunning Breaking Bad always was and how Better Call Saul delivers inventive camerawork too, but El Camino is an absolutely gorgeous movie. The cinematography and direction from Marshall Adams and Gilligan is stylish and compelling. It retains the specific atmosphere and visual language that defined Breaking Bad over the show’s five seasons. And, beyond that, composer Dave Porter returns to deliver more of his tremendous music from the show. The soundtrack and the dark look of the movie help make it tense and engaging throughout. The story sees Jesse attempting to avoid being captured by the police while trying to gather together enough money to Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster), who helps people run from the law by giving them new identities. It’s already suspenseful stuff narratively, and the Gilligan creatively finds ways to call back to the original show (there are loads of shots from Breaking Bad that are mirrored in interesting ways here) and consistently heighten the feeling of nervousness throughout.
The ending Jesse deserves
If there’s one thing I think a lot of Breaking Bad fans can agree on, it’s that the ending of the show ended up mostly focused on Walter White, while Jesse’s story was just as much of a focus throughout the series. For the ending that Gilligan had envisioned, it was necessary for Jesse to be sidelined. Rather than viewing this movie as an unnecessary extra bit of the story, I think of it more as a Gilligan taking the opportunity to really finish off the tale he wanted to tell. Not many storytellers get that chance, and it’s great to see that while El Camino doesn’t set out to answer any lingering questions about the show (there aren’t really any), it does aim to tell a satisfying and emotional story about how Jesse finds a way to move on and get out of the drug business that has had such a massive impact on his life. It doesn’t really ever become fan service and remains an exciting and entertaining story throughout.
Worth it even if just for the stunning camerawork, it’s a gripping ending that respects how Breaking Bad was as much Jesse’s story as it was Walt’s.