Alibi V.28 No.42 • Oct 17-23, 2019 

Idiot Box

The Land of Entrapment

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

The last time we saw poor crystal meth-cooking savant Jesse Pinkman, he was seated behind the wheel of a 1978 Chevrolet El Camino, hightailing it out of a dusty industrial compound on the edge of Albuquerque. He was alternately laughing and ugly-crying, having been rescued from enslavement at the hands of some white supremacists by his former boss, drug kingpin anti-hero Walter White, in a final bloody act of contrition and redemption. What was going through Jesse’s addled mind in that sudden, unexpected moment of freedom? Well, now we know (more or less), thanks to the Netflix-funded feature El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.

Like the meth heads his show frequently portrayed, creator-writer-director Vince Gilligan seems unable to quit his addiction—in this case, the much-loved, Emmy-lauded “Breaking Bad.” In addition to exploring the seedy streets of Albuquerque prior to “Breaking Bad” in the ongoing prequel show “Better Call Saul,” Gilligan returns with a feature-length sequel. Needless to say, many “Breaking Bad” fans will be grateful for the hit.

Picking up precisely where the “Breaking Bad” finale left off, we see Jesse (the often-underrated Aaron Paul) back behind the wheel of that fateful El Camino. He is finally and definitively done with the drug-manufacturing life. All he’s got to do is get the hell out of Dodge. Taking our state’s unofficial motto, “The Land of Entrapment,” to heart, however, Gilligan steers his character through an amusingly hellish journey. Like Gilligan, Pinkman finds it isn’t so easy to put our Albuquerque in the rearview mirror.

El Camino is a tiny footnote aimed at true fans. It’s certainly no place to start an obsession with “Breaking Bad.” The film covers barely two days in the life of Mr. Pinkman, all of them eaten up by his efforts exit The Duke City. Like other cinematic attempts at urban escape (Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, Simon Lui’s Escape From Hong Kong Island), our protagonist’s frustrations and impediments to this seemingly simple goal build to blackly comic proportions.

With both federal agents and assorted criminal types hot on his heels, Jesse has got to keep a low profile. Who is even left alive from the “Breaking Bad” days that he can trust? Surprisingly, he finds help in the form of semi-inept drug runners Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones). But Jesse’s biggest problem remains laying his hands on enough money to get out of Albuquerque undetected. And so begins a frantic and frequently tense quest for some “fat stackin’ benjis” as Skinny Pete might say. It’s a quest complicated by the clear fact that Jesse is suffering from some wicked PTSD.

Over the course of the film’s simple storyline, Gilligan seems to enjoy the luxury of his two-hour-and-out runtime. He takes the time to compose some beautiful shots of the Albuquerque skyline, the muddy Rio Grande and various industrial locales around our city. Rest assured, he leaves room for several fun and surprising cameos from past “Breaking Bad” players. (Half the fun is in seeing them, so no spoilers here.) The only (semi) criticism is that star Aaron Paul isn’t quite the skinny young kid he was 10 years ago—so today’s “flashback” Jesse looks significantly fleshier than he did back in 2008.

Of course, there are those fans who may feel that El Camino doesn’t give them enough closure, enough answers, enough “Breaking Bad” alumni. My advice (and the moral of the show, fairly often) is “don’t get greedy.” If you think “Jesse leaves town” isn’t enough story on which to hang a “Breaking Bad” film, then you didn’t pay close enough attention to “Breaking Bad” the first time around. Gilligan’s show was never about plot. It was about people. We fell in love with it because we came to know these characters intimately, though their best and worst days. What actually happens to Jesse isn’t as important as how he reacts to it. And it’s nothing but a pleasure to watch Paul take Jesse through this dark night of the soul. His tears, his elations, his frustrations, his badass sense of resolve: It all spills out onto the screen in one joyful, sad, funny goodbye. Here’s hoping Gilligan never stops saying goodbye to “Breaking Bad.”

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is streaming now on Netflix.