El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie ★★★★

"You ready?"

In terms of posthumous, feature-length finales to renowned series, 2019 has two notches in its belt, and both are Westerns if the case wasn't already peculiar enough. Well, variants of the genre at least. May saw the release of Deadwood: The Movie, the very long-awaited conclusion to David Milch's unfortunately canceled classic of the small screen that sees a cast and crew deliver the bittersweet end they always deserved. It's a tremendously resonant work and one of my favorite films of the year. Now, six years following the absolutely stunning close of Breaking Bad, another definitive piece of programming, creator Vince Gilligan returns with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.

Given the conclusive nature of the final season, and the series altogether, the argument for or against El Camino is as inescapable as it is justified, a sentiment that grows on your mind as the tone and devices of the film establish themselves across the first 30 or so minutes. Certain creative decisions on the part of Gilligan take time to adjust to, especially considering the pace leading to the midpoint, though the superb second half ultimately remedies several of the worries I carried while giving solid enough intention to preceding aspects. It isn't perfect, but, in the end, these final two hours will please fans and skeptics alike, myself a member of each camp.

Gilligan's eye for the frame is as confident as his hand on the page, channeling the distinctiveness of the show while lending a more somber volatility to the final ride of the outlaw Jesse Pinkman. Every beat builds off of the last, intensifying to the point of white-knuckle dread as the third act commences. But beneath the writer-director's confidence is the most vital factor of all: Aaron Paul. He truly is Jesse, his performance here a reflective collage of the trauma of Breaking Bad with a burning severity for the present and a fathomless desire for a future he so desperately craves to live. El Camino is a great showing for all involved, yet this is undeniably Gilligan and Paul's moment. They bring it all.

Uneven, yes, but lovingly executed and immensely inspired with welcome shades of expansion and illumination. There's a case against the necessity of El Camino and why a flawless end would need anything else. That said, I'm glad Gilligan decided to remedy what he personally deemed imperfect, even if we saw otherwise. A surprisingly pensive epilogue to the twilight hours of the desperado.

"You're really lucky, you know that? You didn't have to wait your whole life to do something special."

RIP Robert Forster, a true star of every screen he graced.

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