Vince Gilligan presents an exciting follow-up to his popular TV series Breaking Bad, in which we learn the fate of Jesse, one of the main characters, played by Aaron Paul.
Vince Gilligan is a producer, writer and director, working primarily in television. He’s the creator of Breaking Bad, a series that ran for five seasons on AMC, about a high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque named Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, who is diagnosed with lung cancer and, in a process too complicated to explain here, gets involved in producing and selling methamphetamine in order to pay his medical bills and secure his family’s financial future. It was a show with a great deal of intricate plotting, in which details of character and memory were linked together in intriguing ways. It had a very dark sense of humor, but the story became progressively more and more sad and frightening as the years went by. The story arc charted Walter White’s progression from someone just trying to make some quick bucks to an ever more insane criminal personality.
Breaking Bad didn’t take off right away, but as the years went by it gained steadily in popularity until it became a huge hit. Since then, Gilligan has created another series called Better Call Saul, a prequel about one of the other characters in the show. And now he’s produced, written and directed a feature film called El Camino, which explores the fate of Walt’s partner in meth dealing, Jesse Pinkman, in the time following the end of the series.
The full title of the movie is El Camino: a Breaking Bad Film—and that’s exactly what it is. To backtrack a little bit: one of the most interesting developments in motion pictures, during the last twenty years or so, has been the emergence of the long-form television series as a mass audience phenomenon. With cable TV, film artists were able to write long continuing stories, rather than just a series of self-contained episodes as it had always been before. And, if the series succeeded, they could count on loyal viewers following the plot week to week. Moreover, with the video revolution, viewers could also binge watch a series.
So all this leads up to the question one would naturally ask: can I enjoy El Camino without having watched Breaking Bad? And the answer is: not really! No, actually, not at all. If you’re not familiar with Breaking Bad, don’t bother watching this film. Now, the other question, for fans of Breaking Bad such as myself, is: does El Camino hold up in comparison to the series? The answer to that, in my opinion, is yes.
Jesse Pinkman is played by Aaron Paul. Jesse was a student of Walter White’s who ended up becoming his partner in the meth trade. He suffered through a lot of misery due to Walter’s influence, and the film ties up some loose ends. At the end of the show, Jesse was set free from being held captive by a gang of crazy Aryan Brotherhood types who forced him to cook meth for them. The trauma of this long captivity is a major theme of the film. The law is after Jesse now, and in his struggle to get away and create a new life, we witness some flashbacks from this painful time, especially an incident in which Todd, one of the members of this vicious gang, forced Jesse to help him dispose of a body. Todd is played by Jesse Plemmons, who conveys a very special kind of sociopath, someone who acts totally calm and even-tempered, even while committing terrible crimes. It’s funny, but also chilling. Aaron Paul, however, is the actor carrying the film, and he seems like he was born to play this part. Paul’s manic intensity and desperation really drives the story. Like the series, the film has a darkly humorous tone that becomes more scary and tragic as the story proceeds.
Vince Gilligan doesn’t just concoct exciting plots. He requires the viewer to think, and try to understand what the people in the story are up to, instead of just explaining it. The movie has plenty of violence, but the pleasure derived from watching this film is largely cerebral. Netflix produced it, so it had a very limited theatrical release followed by it’s becoming available on the Netflix platform, which for better or worse is the current marketing strategy for that company.
Gilligan originally thought that Jesse Pinkman would be a temporary minor character in the show. The part grew into a major one because Aaron Paul was so good in it. El Camino seems like a token of respect for the character and the actor, and it’s an exciting and worthy sequel to a much loved TV series.