Vaila DeYoung, Contributing Writer
“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” opens quietly with a flashback to a conversation between Jesse Pinkman and Mike Ehrmantraut. This peaceful scene acts as the film’s cold open, a narrative technique that director Vince Gilligan — a Richmond native — faithfully utilizes in his television series, “Breaking Bad.” The scene quickly cuts to Pinkman as we last saw him, barreling away in a stolen El Camino.
Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” is a chain of events that mimics a complex chemical reaction. The series follows a generic high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, turned tenacious leader of a drug cartel under the pseudonym, Heisenberg.
Teaming up with a former student, Pinkman, the pair organizes a highly destructive meth business that ultimately crumbles under the hand of White.
The overall “Breaking Bad” story lacks a clear start to the ensuing madness that overcomes its leading characters — instead, it creates an elaborate chain reaction that swells into the final season.
By the time of the series finale, the chemical reaction of “Breaking Bad” reaches a climax, and Walter White’s story fizzles out to a close. After White’s demise, Pinkman is left to deal with the outcome that leads him to his defining moments in “El Camino.”
This sequel is not the next reaction in the grand tale of “Breaking Bad,” but an epilogue of how Pinkman logically deals with the aftermath of his involvement in an international crystal meth empire.
The film follows Pinkman immediately after the events of “Felina,” the “Breaking Bad” series finale. After he breaks free from a group of criminal neo-Nazis, Jesse speeds away, finally escaping the world of drugs and relentless violence that White dragged him through. The focus lies on the bleak consequences that Pinkman faces alone, without support from any person that was ever close to him.
Gilligan crafted an excellent epilogue to the main “Breaking Bad” storyline, making nostalgic callbacks to the show’s unique style and look. It managed to accomplish a smooth transition from the bright, contrasting colors in “Breaking Bad” to a more dark and gritty look of black and brown hues to match the circumstances that follow Pinkman in “El Camino.”
“It [El Camino] serves its purpose as a love letter to the fans of “Breaking Bad,” while also giving Jesse the ending he deserves.” —Vaila DeYoung
Although the film has its own fresh, distinctive look, it fosters a familiar feeling through its characters, soundtrack, and editing style.
The performances were concrete across the board, as each actor seamlessly emulated their character from “Breaking Bad.” This was notably one of Aaron Paul’s strongest performances as Pinkman, and it was satisfying to see certain characters make a return for the long-awaited sequel.
Alongside well-grounded camera work, fast-paced editing, and other technical aspects of the film, Gilligan’s style of directing and writing has quickly became one of my favorites. Though I wish the film was a little bit longer than its two-hour running time, Gilligan utilizes just the right combination of visual storytelling and dialogue-driven scenes to create engaging and interesting scenarios that keep audiences addictively coming back for more.
“El Camino” symbolizes a shift not only in Gilligan’s usual format, but in focus from the infamous White to a broken Pinkman. The film is handled with care; all the attention is (deservingly) placed on White’s former partner. It serves its purpose as a love letter to the fans of “Breaking Bad,” while also giving Jesse the ending he deserves.