El Camino (Netflix film); Cast: Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston; Direction: Vince Gilligan; Rating: * * (two stars)
First off, it isn’t clear why we needed this unscheduled epilogue in a feature-film form for “Breaking Bad”, one of the most successful television serials of all times and a rival in popularity to “Game Of Thrones”.
Director Vince Gillian and his writers, in all their collective wisdom, have gathered together for this final hurrah, a send-off with the borders between ruination and redemption so blurred one feels one is gazing down at a bottomless pit of despair with no hope of ever lunging at the light beyond.
“El Camino” is a very dark film and I do mean that literally. It is shot mostly in places where light cannot penetrate and that’s not just the protagonist Jesse’s soul. Pitch dark, brutally unforgiving of its protagonist’s past misdemeanours, this film is a homage to all the heroes from Quentin Tarantino’s cinema who have suffered the incendiary fires of hell just because their director likes morbidity.
When we meet Jesse, he is all set for a moral and physical rehabilitation, except that the drug dealers won’t let him RIP — I mean, Rehabilitate In Peace. There are prolonged gunfights and gruesome action sequences utterly unsuited to the home-bound milieu where the film plays itself out. Many passages of the narrative are so suffused in a vicious violence that you wonder if the ultimate healing of the wounded hero would have any redemptive, let alone salvational quality.
The quality of mercy is indeed strained in this film about brutal nemesis. Specially reprehensible are the flashbacks showing Jesse (Aaron Paul, performing with a strange mechanical predictability to his character’s unpredictable behaviour) chained in a cage like an animal while one of his captors (Jesse Plemons) speaks to Jesse in a tone suggesting some kind of a well-earned redemption for the captive’s good conduct.
The problems that plague the plot from the writers’ perspective appear to echo the mounting tension of the narrative, as Jesse bolts for a tentative freedom. There is no respite from the relentless darkness that shrouds Jesse even as he tries to shrug off his gruesome past.
The main point of interest, if one may call it that, is the climactic shootout in a warehouse where Jesse, shall we say, comes into his own after whining, moaning, weeping and screaming his protest for nearly two hours. The redemption takes too long. And even if you are familiar with the characters from “Breaking Bad”, this is bad news for you.