El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

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Robert Forster who plays Ed the vacuum repair store owner--and shines--in El Camino, just passed away yesterday (God rest his soul) and I want to just take a moment to appreciate his talent both in the Breaking Bad universe and beyond. His prolific career is full of highlights in film and television and I hope he will be remembered for his fantastic contributions. Forster's gifts speak for themselves in his many roles and with them he also brought a welcome comforting presence. I'm thankful that we were able to fittingly witness Forster's talents once more and will keep his family in my thoughts.

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"Dude, you're my hero and shit!"

Breaking Bad holds the distinction of being the only series I've rewatched from start to finish 3 times (with various additional trips back to watch the odd episode here and there.) It's one of my very favorite shows and what I consider to be one of the objectively greatest series ever made. I'm sure you've all heard the reasons why but for me, I particularly cherish it because of its meticulous deconstruction of what a brilliant mind is capable of with the right motivation. It's endlessly enthralling stuff to me and every rewatch has made me appreciate the details, big or small, even more.

With me in particular then, you can imagine that El Camino was a tough sell from the beginning. Before anything else, to me, Walter White, the aforementioned brilliant mind, is Breaking Bad. I know people land all over the place on how they feel about him but to me, the character, as brought to life by Bryan Cranston's incredible portrayal, is an iconic and richly complex antihero who I adore immensely. My first question when I heard about this project was if and how Cranston would be involved. As much as I liked the character of Jesse Pinkman, all I wanted (despite my internal protests in the name of sullying a flawless finale) was for Walt to come back for just a few more minutes.

So, with that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging I found a mostly Walt-less outing to be. The story, as linear as it is--and inconsistent pacing notwithstanding--works rather well for the most part and even has a few surprises in store for longtime fans. I'm thankful that Gilligan stayed true to the characters and gave them moments that felt authentic to them, even if some of these flashbacks undercut the otherwise tense proceedings.

Camino is a beautifully shot film overflowing with fan service and affection for the characters that we were all transfixed by throughout the story. Aaron Paul is in fine form, effortlessly channeling the turmoil within Jesse as well as he ever has. I seriously loved seeing characters like Ed, Skinny Pete, Badger, Joe, and more do terrific work again.

In every way, El Camino is a film that could never exist in a vacuum. It is deeply rooted in the world that Vince Gilligan masterfully built over 5 pitch-perfect seasons of television (I suppose it's possible to enjoy it based it's own merits but its impacts hit much harder with the lived-in context of the series framing your viewing). To attempt to add a coda to the exceptional series finale is as creatively risky an undertaking as I can imagine. Somehow, Gilligan pulled it off (let's be honest though, is anyone surprised?). For an event that really had no business existing, this makes an effectively convincing case for why we should appreciate that it does.

P.S. I'm thankful I got to see this with my Mom and Dad, the biggest Breaking Bad fans I know and a big part of why I enjoyed the series as much as I did.

P.P.S. This did nothing to resolve my still-raging internal conflict between the wish that Walter somehow survived his showdown with the Nazis and the fact that the show already ends on a perfect note and I should be thankful and accept it.

P.P.P.S. It goes without saying but if you haven't checked out Better Call Saul, I can't recommend it enough. It's a quietly brilliant series that deserves much more love than it's gotten.

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