El Camino breaks through Breaking Bad’s high bar

Aaron Paul reprises his role as Jesse Pinkman in Vince Gilligan’s El Camino – Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia

El Camino, the new Breaking Bad movie starring Aaron Paul, provides fans with long-desired answers regarding Jesse Pinkman’s fate.

     In Breaking Bad, Jesse decided to team up with DEA agent Hank Schrader to take down his drug trafficking mentor Walter White, who had befriended a white supremacist gang. In a failed attempt to capture Walt, Jesse is taken hostage by the gang and forced to cook meth. After a failed escape attempt, Jesse witnesses gang member Todd shoot Jesse’s girlfriend Andrea, and threatens to shoot her son Brock if he tries to escape again. This trauma emotionally wrecks Jesse and forces him to behave himself to keep Brock alive.

     In the series finale, Walt storms the white supremacist compound six months into Jesse’s captivity and uses a remote-controlled machine gun to kill the gang, while shielding Jesse from bullets with his body. Afterwards, Jesse sees that Todd is still alive, and strangles him with his handcuffs. He then takes the keys to Todd’s 1978 Chevrolet El Camino and flees, laughing hysterically and crying as he drives to his freedom.

     El Camino picks up after this scene, following Jesse in his attempt to flee the law. The plot of the movie is fairly predictable: we watch Jesse escape his past and make a new life for himself. But the film does not feel stale or formulaic—it grabs hold of your attention with its fresh directing style and outstanding acting.

Even in fits of violence or anger, Paul keeps in touch with Jesse’s character and maintains some slight tether to the possibility of good-heartedness.

     Aaron Paul’s performance does not disappoint. He plays Jesse with the same complexity and versatility that he did in the show. Jesse’s pain and ambivalence about what he has become shines through. Despite all of his wrongdoings, Jesse never becomes completely malevolent. He is morally torn apart by the evil he sees around him. Even in fits of violence or anger, Paul keeps in touch with Jesse’s character and maintains some slight tether to the possibility of good-heartedness, bringing a unique tenderness to Jesse and the movie.

     Another outstanding performance in El Camino is Jesse Plemons playing Todd. Through flashbacks to Jesse’s time as a meth-cooking slave, we find out more about his life in captivity and see the brutal things the gang does to him.

     The Todd who appears in many of these flashbacks is more manipulative in his abuse of Jesse than his peers. He seems like a decent person at first, but his actions are just as heartless and evil as the other gang members. Plemons’ portrayal of Todd is subtle, and, in the end, illuminates the remarkably evil nature of his character.

     Breaking Bad creator and El Camino director Vince Gilligan constructs the film with a purpose. It seems that every shot is designed to convey a certain aspect of the movie or to distill an emotion for the audience. This filmmaking craftsmanship never comes across as forced, playing well within the narrative of the movie.     El Camino provides a satisfying answer to the question of what happened to Jesse, through skillful acting and directing. It lives up to the greatness of the show and proves successful in transferring the brilliance of Breaking Bad to the big screen.