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El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
A man in a buzzcut looks towards the left with a red stripe behind his head to left and another red stripe in front of his eye on the right.
Promotional poster
Directed byVince Gilligan
Produced by
Written byVince Gilligan
Based onBreaking Bad
by Vince Gilligan
StarringAaron Paul
Music byDave Porter
CinematographyMarshall Adams
Edited bySkip MacDonald
Production
company
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • October 11, 2019 (2019-10-11)
Running time
122 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budgetmore than $6 million[2]
Box officeat least $40,000[3]

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (or simply El Camino) is a 2019 American neo-Western crime thriller film that serves as a sequel and epilogue to the television series Breaking Bad. The film continues the story of Jesse Pinkman, who partnered with former teacher Walter White throughout the series to become kingpins of an Albuquerque crystal meth empire, while the plot centers around the events that immediately follow Breaking Bad's finale. Series creator Vince Gilligan wrote, directed, and produced El Camino, while Aaron Paul reprised his role as Jesse Pinkman. Several actors involved in Breaking Bad also reprised their roles, including Jesse Plemons, Krysten Ritter, Charles Baker, Matt Jones, Robert Forster, Jonathan Banks, and Bryan Cranston. El Camino was also one of Forster's final film appearances, as he died on the day of its release.

Gilligan first began considering the story of El Camino during the filming of the final season of Breaking Bad. Gilligan approached Paul with the idea in 2017, near the tenth anniversary of Breaking Bad, and filming began in secret in New Mexico in November 2018, lasting nearly 50 days. The project remained unconfirmed until August 2019, when Netflix released a trailer.

El Camino was released digitally on Netflix and limited theatrically on October 11, 2019, with an AMC television premiere on February 16, 2020. It received positive reviews from critics, who praised the performances of Paul and Plemons, as well as Gilligan's direction. The film was nominated for several awards, winning Best Movie Made for Television at the Critics' Choice Television Awards and Best Motion Picture Made for Television at the Satellite Awards. El Camino additionally received four nominations at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards for Outstanding Television Movie and other technical categories.

Plot

In a flashback, Jesse Pinkman and Mike Ehrmantraut have a discussion shortly before they leave Walter White's meth business.[N 1] Jesse asks Mike where he would go to start over. Mike replies that if he were younger, he would go to Alaska, an idea Jesse finds appealing. Jesse expresses the desire to make amends for past wrongdoing, but Mike cautions that starting over would make that impossible.

In the present, Jesse flees the Brotherhood compound in Todd Alquist's El Camino.[N 2] He goes to the Albuquerque home of Skinny Pete and Badger, who hide the car and give Jesse a place to sleep. The next morning, Jesse calls Old Joe to dispose of the El Camino but Joe flees after discovering its LoJack. Pete then devises a plan to make it appear that Jesse fled to Mexico after trading Pete's Ford Thunderbird for the El Camino. Pete and Badger give Jesse the money they got from Walt,[N 2] and Badger drives the Thunderbird several hours south. Pete stays home with the El Camino and waits for police to respond to the LoJack. Jesse departs in Badger's Pontiac Fiero and learns from the radio news that Walter died at the compound and a woman he poisoned[N 3] is fatally ill.[N 2]

In a flashback to Jesse's captivity,[N 4] Todd takes Jesse to Todd's apartment to help dispose of his cleaning lady, whom he killed after she discovered his hidden money. They sidestep Lou, Todd's busybody neighbor, and bury the corpse in the desert. In the present, Jesse sneaks into Todd's apartment and searches until he finds the new hiding place. Two police officers, Casey and Neil, enter the apartment and begin to search. Jesse hides, but holds Casey at gunpoint after Casey finds him. Neil disarms Jesse, who realizes they are not police officers but thugs also looking for Todd's money. To save himself, Jesse reveals that he found the cash. Lou reports finding an old note from Todd, and Casey pretends to be interested to distract him. Neil and Jesse bargain over the money and Neil agrees to let Jesse take a third. As they depart, Jesse recognizes Neil as the welder who built the tether he was fastened to while forced to cook meth for the Brotherhood.

Jesse finds Ed Galbraith, the "disappearer". Ed wants US$125,000 to aid Jesse, plus an additional $125,000 for the previous occasion when Jesse hired him but failed to commit.[N 5] Jesse is $1,800 short, so Ed refuses to help. Knowing they are being surveilled, Jesse calls his parents and feigns willingness to surrender. After his parents and the police depart, Jesse enters the Pinkman home unseen and takes two pistols from his father's safe, a Colt Woodsman and an Iver Johnson Hammerless.[9]

Jesse drives to Neil's shop, where Neil, Casey, and three friends celebrate with escorts and cocaine. After the escorts leave, he asks for $1,800, and Neil refuses. Seeing the Woodsman in Jesse's waistband, Neil challenges Jesse to a duel for his share of the cash. Jesse agrees, and when Neil reaches for his gun, Jesse shoots him with the Hammerless, which was concealed in his jacket pocket. Casey fires at Jesse, but Jesse kills him. Jesse collects the driver's licenses of the remaining men and lets them leave after threatening to return and kill them if they tell the police. He recovers Neil's cash and departs after setting an explosion to cover his tracks.

In a flashback, Walter and Jesse have breakfast after a multi-day meth cook.[N 6] Estimating they will make more than $1 million, Walter laments having waited his entire life to do something special and says Jesse is lucky because he will not have to wait.

In the present, Ed drops Jesse off at a car parked near Haines, Alaska. Jesse gives Ed a letter for Brock Cantillo and acknowledges there is no one else he wants to say goodbye to. Driving off, Jesse has a flashback to his time with Jane Margolis.[N 7] He tells her he admires what she said about going wherever the universe takes her, but she dismisses it as metaphorical and encourages him to make his own decisions. Jesse drives on, smiling at the prospect of a new life.

Cast

Themes and style

While El Camino's plot focused on Jesse Pinkman escaping to Alaska, writer and director Vince Gilligan stated that thematically, the film was about Jesse transforming from a boy to a man. He explained that while Jesse spent the entirety of Breaking Bad as Walter White's partner, El Camino showed Jesse coming to terms with his past and making his own decisions, free of White's influence.[11] Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone cited the prevalence of this theme in the flashbacks that bookend the film (Mike Ehrmantraut at the beginning, Walter White and Jane Margolis at the end), detailing that "all three flashbacks are also about the way that Jesse has been forced by tragic circumstance to grow up and think more about his place in the universe and the impact he has on others".[6] Aaron Paul described his character Jesse as someone who went through "hell and back multiple times" and is still "paying for those sins", but Donna Bowman of The A.V. Club noted that in freeing his ambitions from Walter White's manipulations, Jesse found his own redemption and avoided his mentor's fate.[12][13]

The opening flashback with Jesse and Mike also sets the theme of Jesse trying to start over while also making things right with his past. Though Mike warned that the latter idea would be something that Jesse could never do, Sepinwall noted that Jesse is able to repay several of his emotional debts through rectifying gestures: giving a proper goodbye to his friends Badger and Skinny Pete, apologizing to his parents one last time, getting revenge against Neil and Casey, paying back his (literal) debt to Ed Galbraith, and sending his farewell letter of apology to Brock Cantillo.[6] Placing his own analysis on Jesse's final duel with Neil Kandy, Gilligan interpreted the scene as more than just Jesse getting the cash he needed for his escape, but also as a way of "exorcising demons" that plagued him from the events of the series.[11] Both Gilligan and Paul speculated that Jesse would still be haunted by these demons, even in his new life in Alaska, but ridding the world of an evil person was his own way of achieving vengeance for his past.[11][12]

Breaking Bad was often categorized as a modern Western; this theme is also present in El Camino.[14][15] Gilligan had expressed his admiration for director Sergio Leone and his love for the genre – he originally wanted to film Breaking Bad in the CinemaScope format that Leone used for the Dollars Trilogy and got his wish in El Camino.[2][16] Many noted the duel at the end of the film between Jesse Pinkman and Neil Kandy as being directly in the style of Western films.[17][18] Gilligan referenced The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and other classic gunfights to sequence the scene with comparable coverage techniques, likewise composer Dave Porter used Western elements in the scene's score.[19][20][21][22] Ben Travers of IndieWire traced the film's Western influences in its "sweeping landscapes, lone survivor, and final stand-off", while Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture cited the lack of overt sentimentality in the final shot as being true in the spirit of classic Westerns.[23][24]

Production

Development

A young man with a buzzcut wearing a denim jacket and a black shirt faces the camera, speaks into a microphone.
The film follows Jesse Pinkman, portrayed by Aaron Paul, after the events of Breaking Bad.

Vince Gilligan, the creator and showrunner of Breaking Bad, had the idea for El Camino while writing the final season.[16] He asked himself what would happen to Jesse Pinkman after the Breaking Bad finale "Felina", when Jesse escaped from the neo-Nazis' compound after being rescued by Walter White. At the time of the conclusion of Breaking Bad, Gilligan offered two possible fates for Jesse: a more realistic one where he was caught by police a few miles from the compound, and a second, more optimistic one where Jesse got away but still had to cope with the terrible things he had witnessed throughout the series.[25]

In the intervening years, Gilligan toyed with both approaches. Of the first, he considered the idea of Jesse hiding close to the Canadian border, getting lured back into crime to help a young woman in the town. This version would end with Jesse in a jail cell in the concluding scene, imprisoned yet at peace for the first time.[11] Gilligan's girlfriend Holly Rice told him that would be a terrible ending, as fans would not appreciate seeing Jesse incarcerated after all he had been through. Gilligan then scrapped the concept, sticking to the idea of Jesse escaping to Alaska.[26]

It was not until near the tenth anniversary of Breaking Bad that Gilligan started sharing the idea with former cast and crew members as a means to celebrate the milestone.[2] Aaron Paul, who portrayed Jesse in the series, affirmed that while he was starring in The Path in 2017, Gilligan had contacted him hinting at something big regarding Breaking Bad.[27] Though he felt the show had concluded satisfyingly, Paul still felt attached to the character and was asked regularly by fans of Jesse's fate after the events of the series.[28] Paul was eager to be involved with any idea Gilligan had to continue Jesse's character.[2] Seven months after proposing his idea, Gilligan told Paul the script was complete.[29]

Gilligan had been involved with feature-length films before, but El Camino would be the first that he directed and produced.[2] While he had considered the concept of a film for an extended period after Breaking Bad's conclusion, one aspect that allowed Gilligan to move forward with the idea was the success of spinoff Better Call Saul, which he co-created. Though he still would have wanted to make the film, Gilligan stated that he likely would not have been able to had Saul been a flop.[30]

Upon pitching his idea to Sony Pictures Television, the studio behind both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, the executives in the room quickly agreed to come on board. The film's unspecified budget provided was stated to be more than the $6 million budget per episode in the show's final season. With his script in hand, Gilligan then selectively shopped the film to a few potential distributors, settling on Netflix and AMC due to their history with the show. Gilligan intended for the film to have a theatrical release, a goal he had sought while filming Breaking Bad, which Netflix had done for some of the show's season premieres in limited theatrical engagements.[2]

Writing

A man with dark brown hair, sporting rectangular glasses, a mustache and goatee while wearing a teal shirt and dark grey glasses, looks to the right while speaking into a microphone.
Vince Gilligan wrote and directed the film.

The original idea for continuing Jesse Pinkman's story began as a short film or "mini-episode" of about 15–20 minutes.[16] Realizing that a short would not be cost-effective, Gilligan opted to make a full-length feature film.[11] The script quickly grew to the length of an hour-long episode and eventually to two hours.[16]

One early suggestion Gilligan received was altering his proposed title – Gilligan originally had the idea of calling the project '63, referring to its unofficial status as the 63rd episode of Breaking Bad.[16] When pitching story ideas with the Better Call Saul staff, he was advised by executive producer Thomas Schnauz to change it in order to let it stand on its own from the original series. Schnauz reasoned with Gilligan that Breaking Bad was in essence Walter White's story, whereas the film and its title should be unique in order to reflect that they were about Jesse Pinkman. Gilligan agreed and eventually settled on the title El Camino, referring to Todd's car that Jesse drives away with in "Felina".[11]

Gilligan believed that because El Camino was a coda to Breaking Bad, the film would primarily appeal to fans and would not be as enjoyable to those who had not watched the series. This influenced his decision to write the film as a direct continuation rather than inserting exposition scenes to try to attract new audiences.[2] He later stated that the film could be viewed independently from both Breaking Bad and its spinoff Better Call Saul, similarly to how the two series could be viewed independently from one another. However, he also believed that the three works existed together in a larger framework and that viewers would need to watch all of them together to receive the full experience.[16]

Unlike most of his work from The X-Files and Breaking Bad, when he worked with one or more co-writers, Gilligan wrote the El Camino screenplay alone until he was ready to present it.[2] When thinking of which Breaking Bad characters to use for the film, Gilligan considered bringing back Skyler White, Walter Jr., Hank and Marie Schrader, Gus Fring, and Saul Goodman but could not find a way to incorporate them into Jesse's story.[31] An early scrapped concept included bringing back Uncle Jack as a ghost that would goad Jesse throughout his journey, but Gilligan discarded this idea as too dreary as he felt that Jesse had already suffered enough.[16] Of the characters that he ended up using, Gilligan was most excited to bring back Todd Alquist, stating he was still fascinated by the character and wished he could have been further explored on the series.[11] Jesse Plemons, who portrayed Todd, expressed surprise at his deceased character's sizable role in the film upon first reading the script and likened his scenes with Jesse to a dark buddy comedy.[32]

A man with white hair, wearing circular glasses, a blue shirt and light brown jacket, faces to the right while speaking into a microphone.
Peter Gould and the Better Call Saul writing staff were consulted after Gilligan finished the script's first draft.

Upon completion of the script's first draft, Gilligan met with the writing staff of Better Call Saul, which was still airing at the time. The purpose of the meeting was to not only ensure that the two projects' continuity would not interfere with one another but to also take in suggestions to improve his script.[33] One change from this meeting was the decision to include Jane Margolis. The character was not initially in the story but after Saul showrunner Peter Gould read the first draft, he suggested that she could appear in the ending, "where it would mean the most to the audience". After thinking about the suggestion for a couple of weeks, Gilligan incorporated the idea into his script.[11] Jane ultimately delivered the final lines of the film.[34]

One of the biggest elements removed in later drafts was the very first thing that Gilligan wrote for the script: the contents of Jesse's letter to Brock. Gilligan had planned on having it read in voice-over while Jesse drove through Alaska in the final scene; Paul described it as "the most honest, beautiful, caring letter imaginable — really, just pouring his heart out and saying he's sorry".[35] While the Better Call Saul staff praised the letter's contents, Gould and several others felt it would be better left to the audience's imagination to determine what Jesse wrote. Gilligan subsequently decided it was not needed to conclude Jesse's story and went with the alternate ending featuring Jane.[36] While Paul agreed with Gilligan's decision, he mentioned that he was "crushed" that it did not appear in the film.[26] Paul shared his hopes that the letter's contents will be revealed some day, and that he has been "begging" Gilligan to release it.[35]

Gilligan wrote the scene of Walter White and Jesse sitting in the diner in a light-hearted tone, with the intention of providing one last chance to see the two characters together as a final treat for the fans. Producer Melissa Bernstein suggested adding a bit more gravitas to the scene in order to let it resonate further with the audiences. Gilligan left most of the scene from the original script intact, but he and Bernstein came up with the line "You're really lucky, you know that? That you didn't have to wait your whole life to do something special", tying the scene to the film's theme of Jesse finally taking control of his life.[11]

Filming

Under the working title Greenbrier, a majority of the filming occurred in Albuquerque from November 2018 to February 2019, with the overall shoot lasting 50 days.[2][37][38] On set, the film used many of the same crew members who had been with the show since the pilot of Breaking Bad, as several carried their roles over to Better Call Saul when the show concluded.[29] Compared to the pace used during Breaking Bad, where six to eight pages of script were shot a day, the pace for El Camino was more relaxed, with only one-and-a-half to three pages filmed per day.[2] This less-pressured schedule allowed actors more opportunities to improvise on the set.[39] Gilligan later stated that the slower pace allowed him to reflect and feel a greater sense of finality for his creation whilst he was filming.[16]

The Arri Alexa 65 was chosen to film El Camino due to its quality in capturing low-light.
The Arri Alexa 65 was chosen to film El Camino due to its quality in capturing low-light.

The film was shot at a 2.39 widescreen aspect ratio using the Arri Alexa 65 camera to capture the work in a cinematic manner.[2] Using the Alexa 65 also meant that the film would be shot digitally, as opposed to the 35 mm movie film used on Breaking Bad. Gilligan and cinematographer Marshall Adams chose this camera primarily for its quality in low-light filming, which the film would heavily feature. The Alexa 65 would be used in conjunction with Arri Prime DNA lenses, which Adams said helped control depth of field by maintaining color contrast and balance.[40][41] The film's color palette would be graded with DaVinci Resolve; Adams did not let Breaking Bad dictate which colors he used and opted to make a palette specific to the film. To help receive dailies, production used FotoKem, who did the same work on both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. The crew delivered footage with requested color changes to FotoKem members that were on-site, who then applied the changes to get the dailies out fairly quickly.[41]

Gilligan wanted the film's cinematography to maintain the naturalistic look used on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul while also expanding it. Adams specified this as the "realistic, practical-driven looks for night exteriors and low-light interiors that embraced all the colors and looks of Albuquerque, New Mexico" that he used on Saul.[40] Production designer Judy Rhee noted that Gilligan took advantage of his lens and wider aspect ratio to create a more visually luxurious experience, letting the wide vista shots help meet the film's plot beats rather than using more economic options commonly used for television.[21] Adams agreed with this opinion, citing as an example the vast and empty space of the Painted Desert underscoring Jesse's sense of loneliness in Todd's captivity.[20]

Adams saw the film as a way to pay homage to original Breaking Bad cinematographer Michael Slovis.[42] Though Adams took over as director of photography during the third season of Better Call Saul, he previously filmed pick-ups with Slovis during the end of Breaking Bad's fourth season and served as cinematographer during the show's fifth season premiere.[20][40] For the film, Adams took great lengths to match Slovis' lensing from the series while modifying it for the film's digital format and larger aspect ratio.[20][42] He specified the opening of Jesse driving out of the compound as one scene that he updated using this approach, likening it to a "direct cut" from the last time the audiences saw Jesse in Breaking Bad's finale. He applied the same principle for other scenes that used locations from the series, such as the compound and the vacuum store.[20]

In order to distinguish the flashback scenes from the ones set in the present, Gilligan decided against using different color saturation. He instead chose to have flashbacks filmed in a "handheld" look while having the present-day scenes more anchored and locked-down. This was inspired by the fact that much of Breaking Bad was filmed handheld.[20] As the Alexa 65 camera would be too large to carry while filming, Gilligan achieved the "wiggling" effect by placing the camera on top of a truck airbag that could be inflated and deflated easily between two plastic plates.[41]

Sets and locations

Todd Alquist's apartment set contains a brightly-lit entryway (above) that darkens deeper into the bedroom (below), reflecting the duality of Todd's personality.

Filming primarily occurred at Albuquerque Studios, where both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul were shot.[40][43] Notable new sets built in the studio included Todd Alquist's apartment and the welding shop where Jesse had his final confrontation with Neil and Casey. For the first, production designer Judy Rhee, who had worked on the fourth season of Better Call Saul, arranged the set to reflect the duality of Todd's character. The initial living room appeared sunny, meticulous and clean, reflective of Todd's exterior "Boy Scout" personality. However, the set became darker going further into his bedroom, indicative of Todd's sociopathic tendencies. Rhee also placed several childlike Easter eggs throughout the apartment to give a sense of the arrested development within Todd. For the welding shop, Rhee wanted to maintain the accuracy of how a welding business appeared and match its exterior location, but also designed the set for the scene's stunts and necessary camera blocking. The glass office in the back of the set was implemented to include breakage during the climax and enhance the scene's action.[21]

Additionally, several locations from Breaking Bad were reused including the Pinkman residence, the strip mall that contained Saul Goodman's office, and Ed Galbraith's vacuum repair shop.[44] The original vacuum store had sold and become a furniture store since the series ended, so production had to rebuild the set from scratch and use a special buyer to locate identical props from flea markets and salvage areas.[21] Having a restored vacuum repair store set provided an added convenience for the fifth season premiere of Better Call Saul, which aired several months later. Initially, the episode was supposed to include Ed Galbraith as a voice-over, as the episode's budget could not cover the cost of flying actor Robert Forster to Albuquerque and rebuilding the vacuum shop set. However, producer Melissa Bernstein recognized that both Forster and the rebuilt set would be available as part of El Camino. She then arranged for Gilligan to shoot the Better Call Saul scene with Forster in person during the film's production, months before any other episodes were set to be filmed.[45]

Another set from Breaking Bad that had to be rebuilt included the compound where Jesse was held captive.[44] The set reused a majority of the original props, notably the cooking vessel that Walter White touched shortly before he died in "Felina". Despite resulting in a continuity error, his bloody handprint was not removed and was instead left as an intentional easter egg for fans.[46]

In addition to Albuquerque, filming locations included the Painted Desert in Arizona (left) and around the Grand Tetons in Wyoming (right).

The enhanced budget and filming schedule provided Gilligan a chance to capture scenes outside of Albuquerque, something he wanted but was unable to do during Breaking Bad.[2] One outside filming location included the Painted Desert in Arizona, which was used for the scene where Jesse and Todd bury Todd's housekeeper.[11] Gilligan had the idea of shooting in that region through multiple helicopter trips from California to Albuquerque, noting the landscape for its natural beauty. As backroad travel in the Painted Desert requires a permit, Gilligan received special permission from the Navajo Nation for filming.[31] Cast members reached the Painted Desert set by a helicopter flown by Gilligan himself, who is a licensed pilot.[47] The scene where Todd sings "Sharing the Night Together" in his El Camino was also filmed in the area; Gilligan noted the gesture that Todd gives to the truck driver to honk was improvised.[31] Gilligan later called filming in the Painted Desert as the single best day of directing in his career.[48]

An additional sequence filmed outside of New Mexico included the concluding scenes of Jesse and Ed Galbraith making their final exchanges, followed by Jesse driving towards his new life in Haines, Alaska. While Gilligan wanted to use the Haines Highway to shoot on location, production found that option cost-prohibitive and subsequently found a similar setting outside of Jackson, Wyoming. During the day of filming, the crew took advantage of the low cloud coverage to naturally hide the Grand Tetons in the background; this allowed them to avoid using digital technology to remove the landmark in post-production.[49]

Secrecy

A middle-aged man with a buzzcut, wearing grey shirt and black jacket, laughs towards the camera with a microphone placed in front of him.
Bryan Cranston's cameo as Walter White was filmed in absolute secrecy during his two day break from the Broadway play Network.

The film was held in great secrecy from the pre-production stages. Certain cast members were approached for the film without knowing that it was for a Breaking Bad continuation, and some kept that fact secret from their families when production began.[39][50] It was only near the start of filming that rumors floated that a film continuation of Breaking Bad was in development, with Paul returning as Jesse.[51][52] Bryan Cranston, who starred as Walter White, confirmed in an interview during this time that a film was indeed in the works but said he had not seen a script, although he was interested in participating if Gilligan called for it.[53]

Cranston would eventually appear in the film, flying to Albuquerque in a private jet to shoot his scenes during a January two-day break from his performance in the Broadway play Network.[54] As Cranston had grown his hair out since the series ended, a bald cap and fake moustache were used to help him achieve the look of Walter White.[55] The diner scene was filmed first, with the set containing only crew members and their families serving as extras in order to keep the shoot confidential.[54] Despite the enclosed filming location, numerous locals spotted the show's iconic RV in the parking lot of the diner, but the crew used the excuse that they were shooting a commercial for a Breaking Bad tour to deflect attention.[11] The hallway scene was filmed the next day; afterward Cranston immediately returned to the airport. To ensure that there were no paparazzi photos, Cranston was heavily disguised when he was escorted from and throughout the set.[54] When Cranston was off the set, he and Paul were told to avoid seeing each other.[10]

Similar measures were taken to ensure that news of filming would not reach the locals, with cast and crew under tight restrictions about what they could say about the project.[2] Cast members wore large cloaks to disguise their identities when heading to the set or when shooting outside in public places.[56][57] Actors were ordered not to be seen with one another in the area, and when recognized they would lie about the project they were working on.[28][58] By the time local media made a connection between Greenbrier and Breaking Bad, and when The Hollywood Reporter would break the news in February 2019 that the film would be a Breaking Bad sequel, filming was already scheduled to be finished.[27][38][59] When asked about the project's existence in The Hollywood Reporter piece, representatives for AMC, Netflix and Sony Pictures TV would all decline to comment.[59]

Filming of Better Call Saul's fifth season took place shortly after El Camino finished shooting to take advantage of the assembled crew. As such, cast members of Better Call Saul became aware of El Camino's existence but swore to secrecy on the project.[60] Days before the film's announcement, Bob Odenkirk, who stars as Saul Goodman on Better Call Saul, teased that the film was already completed and that the producers had done "an amazing job of keeping it a secret".[61]

Editing

The initial length of the film's rough cut was nearly three hours long, with Paul estimating that Gilligan removed 30% of footage for the final product.[62] Editor Skip MacDonald, who worked on both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, described maintaining rhythm and pacing without the use of commercial breaks as one of the biggest differences between his work on the film and the two television series.[19][63] Doing so required excising or shortening scenes to prevent the film from overextending its runtime.[63]

One story development removed during post-production was Jesse getting shot in the side during his final showdown with Neil and Casey.[16] This would have been followed by a wounded Jesse getting found by Ed Galbraith at the vacuum store the following morning, opening his car's trunk to reveal the cash he acquired to fulfill his end of the bargain.[64] However, Gilligan felt that these scenes provided little payoff for the viewers, so he removed them to let the film reach its conclusion quicker.[65] Additional scenes that were shortened for runtime included Jesse further relaxing in his hotel room before meeting with Walter White and an extended sequence of Jesse and Jane during their road trip.[66][67] Gilligan confirmed that the aforementioned deleted and extended scenes would be available as bonus features for the film's home video release.[16]

Soundtrack

Score

"The Breaking Bad [score] is, at times, very, very spare and I think the El Camino score remains true to that, but there is complexity and a depth to the music that is fuller and greater in order to fill more sonic space in a theater. That was something we were definitely after."

Dave Porter, El Camino composer[68]

The production retained the use of Dave Porter, who composed the score for all five seasons of Breaking Bad, as well as every season of Better Call Saul up to that point.[68] Given the film's longer production schedule, Gilligan was able to be present in the studio to listen to Porter's score and exchange ideas, something he had never done during Breaking Bad.[69] Porter in turn felt he had more time and resources to add nuance to the film's music, working with Gilligan to achieve a cinematic sound that could also establish its own identity.[70]

To prepare his score, Porter rewatched the series in order to select musical cues that he could revisit for the film.[70] Many of the returning locations and characters were given updated themes, with Porter citing the scenes with the compound, Ed Galbraith and Jane Margolis as examples.[70][71] However, to differentiate the flashback scenes, Porter tried to replicate the less cinematic sounds from the original series as closely as possible. He described his main goal in designing the film's sound as wanting to link back to the score used in the series, but in a manner that it wouldn't feel jarring or strangely out of place.[70] For this reason, Porter chose not to make any musical references to the original Breaking Bad theme song; he felt it represented Walter White's journey and did not fit in a story primarily about Jesse.[71]

Similar to his work in both series, Porter's score utilized a mix of electronic sounds and live instrumentation.[22] Porter noted that the biggest difference between scoring Breaking Bad and El Camino was that while the series shifted between multiple interwoven storylines, the film focused on a singular arc – mainly, the trials of Jesse Pinkman. This presented Porter the opportunity to further explore Jesse's state of mind and compose accordingly.[71] He described the film's contents and resulting score as more "cerebral" and "psychological", rather than relying on "fast-paced adrenaline".[70]

An official soundtrack was issued by Mondo on October 14, 2020, nearly a full year after the film's release. The 26-track double-LP featured Porter's score and many of the film's licensed tracks.[72]

Licensed tracks

Licensed tracks were used sparingly in the film.[68] Three that were prominent in the final cut include "Sharing the Night Together" by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, which Todd sings in the car during his and Jesse's road trip, "Spikey" by Red Snapper, which was played over the montage where Jesse searches Todd's apartment, and "Static on the Radio" by Jim White, which was used in the end credits.[73]

Other licensed tracks include:[74]

Marketing

Netflix officially announced El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie on August 24, 2019, unveiling the title, description, poster, logo, teaser trailer and the October 11, 2019 release date for the film.[75] Days prior, Netflix accidentally listed the film on its website, which was quickly noticed by users before it was pulled.[76] Due to the secrecy of the project, fans and critics alike were taken aback by the sudden announcement, as well as by learning that the release date would come sooner than expected.[77][78][79]

Trailers

The first teaser released during the film's announcement featured a scene where the DEA interrogated Skinny Pete on Jesse Pinkman's whereabouts. Charles Baker reprised the role in the public's first glimpse of the film.[78] Though the scene was not used in the final cut, some critics noted after the premiere of its significance in the film's chronology, speculating that it likely took place shortly after Jesse and Skinny Pete parted ways.[6][80] Baker himself would later confirm that the scene used in the teaser trailer was not part of the original script.[81]

Netflix released its first trailer on September 10, 2019, which solely consisted of Breaking Bad clips set to a cover of "Enchanted"[N 8] by Chloe x Halle.[83] A second teaser, which featured Jesse sitting in the El Camino and listening to news reports of the prior events of the series on the radio, premiered during the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on September 22, 2019.[84] A full trailer was released on September 24, 2019, which gave audiences their first full look of clips from the film accompanied by the song "Black Water" by Reuben and the Dark.[85][86]

Before the film's premiere, three additional promotional videos were released: a teaser clip of Old Joe speaking with Jesse on the phone, a video of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul cast members reacting to comments on the trailer, as well as a two-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.[87][88][89] An extended 13-minute behind-the-scenes featurette titled The Road to El Camino would later be released on Netflix on October 29, 2019.[90]

The Countdown to El Camino

Before the release of the film, the Twitter accounts of Breaking Bad and Samsung US shared a countdown.[91] Titled The Countdown to El Camino, the promotion was done as part of Samsung's partnership with Netflix.[92] The countdown would also be available as a 62-hour livestream on Samsung televisions prior to the film's release.[93]

The campaign saw the return of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul character Huell Babineaux, with Lavell Crawford reprising the role.[91] Throughout the countdown, Huell appeared in several short video interludes of him sitting impatiently in a safe house,[N 9] loafing around or watching the news.[94][95] Upon the countdown's conclusion, a video was shown of Huell leaving the safe house.[96] The character ultimately did not appear in the film, but many noted that the promotion answered a question long posed by fans of Huell's fate after Breaking Bad ended.[91][94][95]

The livestream would be watched by 3.5 million viewers prior to the film's release. Chemistry, the advertising agency behind the promotion, later submitted the campaign for the 12th Annual Shorty Awards under the name "Waiting with Huell". The campaign entered under multiple categories, eventually earning the Bronze Distinction in Television.[97]

Snow Globe: A Breaking Bad Short

In conjunction with the release of El Camino on AMC, the network released a three-minute short video Snow Globe: A Breaking Bad Short on February 17, 2020.[98] The short, directed by Eric Schmidt and written by Melissa Ng, stars Jesse Plemons as Todd with Laura Fraser providing her voice as Lydia Rodarte-Quayle.[99][100] Taking place some point before the events of the film, the short features Todd assembling a custom snow globe (which is later seen in El Camino when Jesse sneaks into his apartment) as he tries to call Lydia to ask her on a date.[101]

Release

An elder man with a white shirt and brown jacket looks wistfully to the left of the camera.
El Camino was one of the final films to feature Robert Forster, who died on the same day the film was released.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie had its world premiere on October 7, 2019, at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles, with multiple cast members from the film, Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul in attendance.[30][102] It was released on October 11, 2019, on Netflix.[27] The film also had a limited theatrical release from October 11 to 13 in the United States.[103] It later premiered on AMC television on February 16, 2020, following a complete marathon of the series on the network.[104]

On the day of El Camino's release, Robert Forster, who played Ed in both the series and film, died of complications from brain cancer, at the age of 78.[105] Among other Hollywood tributes, the cast and crew of Breaking Bad paid tribute to him.[65][106][107] According to Paul, Forster had watched the film before dying: "he was so proud of it and of me. He called to tell me that he loved me. I sensed something was wrong, but I got on a plane and, when I landed, he'd died. It was incredibly sad to hear".[108]

Audience viewership

Nielsen reported that El Camino drew 2.65 million viewers within a day of its release, with an overall 6.54 million total viewers during opening weekend.[109][110] It was also reported that at least 8.2 million viewers watched a few minutes of the film during its first three days of availability.[109] This compared well to Breaking Bad's fifth-season premiere with 5.9 million viewers and finale with 10.3 million when they first aired on AMC.[111][112] After the first week of its release, Netflix announced that over 25 million households had seen the film.[113]

For El Camino's limited theatrical release, 12 of the 125 theaters that screened the film reported a combined gross of $40,000, an average of $3,333 per venue.[3] TheWrap calculated that if the film had a proper wide theatrical release, and that every reported viewer had bought a ticket for the average price to see it, then it likely could have topped the box office that weekend.[114] Months later, the film drew 774,000 viewers for its AMC television premiere.[115]

Home media

El Camino received its first home video release on October 13, 2020, as a DVD/Blu-ray combo packaged in a limited edition steelbook from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Features exclusive to the Blu-ray consisted of a commentary track from Vince Gilligan and Aaron Paul, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and scene studies with Gilligan. Other features on both the Blu-ray and DVD included a commentary track from multiple members of the cast and crew, a behind-the-scenes documentary, promotional teasers and trailers, and visual effects design galleries.[116]

Reception

Critical response

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 126 reviews, with an average rating of 7.29/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Entertaining if not essential, El Camino adds a satisfying belated coda to the Breaking Bad story – led by a career-best performance from Aaron Paul".[117] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 72 out of 100 based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[118]

Aaron Paul's performance as Jesse Pinkman received near-unanimous acclaim. Judy Berman of Time called his portrayal "mesmerizing", citing Paul's ease at "fully re-inhabiting a role he hadn't played for years ... endowing Jesse with the same mix of (waning) goofiness and (escalating) existential terror that propelled him through the finale".[119] Liz Shannon Miller of The Verge commented that "[Paul's] work in El Camino is staggering, given the high difficulty factor that comes with having to play so many variations of this character" and followed this by stating "what makes El Camino so compelling is the way it engages with how he's changed since those early days".[120] NPR's Linda Holmes further elaborated: "Paul's capacity to bring Jesse from a young dumb punk who yelled 'Yeah, science!' to the husk who shows up at Skinny's door is a feat of performance that deserves all the respect it's gotten".[121] David Levesley of GQ, while calling Paul a "good actor", felt the film did not utilize his full potential, noting that "without actors to bounce off, the film often doesn't know what to do with him".[122] Jesse Plemons' reprisal of Todd Alquist also drew strong reviews, with Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter mentioning "Plemons never got the respect he deserved ... and this might be a good time to properly relish what an odd and awful guy Todd was".[123]

Vince Gilligan's direction similarly received praise. Fienberg called Gilligan "a precise and complicated visual stylist ... the conception of Breaking Bad as a modern Western has never been so clearly articulated and executed". He also credited cinematographer Marshall Adams, editor Skip MacDonald and composer Dave Porter, all of whom worked on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, for helping the film "return to the original show's grammar".[123] Dan Jolin of Empire noted that "Gilligan keeps the same steady, detail-oriented pace and maintains the vivid, slightly askew visual style which distinguished the show throughout its five seasons".[124] Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly called Gilligan's style "energetic" and lauded the larger budget being applied "more for high anxiety than flashy pyrotechnics", citing the film's cinematography, editing and montages as examples.[125] Erik Adams of The A.V. Club, while finding the film's Western imagery a bit "clumsily deployed", commended the scale of the film.[126]

Comparisons to Breaking Bad

From a narrative perspective, several critics praised the film as a continuation of Breaking Bad. Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone stated that "if the [Breaking Bad] conclusion had a flaw ... it's that Jesse got left behind a bit. By the end of El Camino, that's no longer the case".[127] Melissa Leon of The Daily Beast agreed, saying that "Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan's meditative neo-western El Camino attaches a coda to Jesse's story, detailing the emotional (and physical) scars Walt left him to live with".[128] Regarding the film's chronology from the preceding series, Steve Greene of IndieWire noted that "though the specter of Jesse's former partners haunt El Camino, Gilligan effectively holds the audience's attention to keep them focused on the present".[129] When comparing El Camino to other franchise continuation projects, Roxanne Sancto of Little White Lies mentioned that "movie spin-offs [have] become a dangerous trend that often ends in disappointment ... the balance needs to be just right and, fortunately, creator Vince Gilligan has nailed it with El Camino".[130]

While many critics found the film enjoyable, some also saw it as inessential to the overall arc of the series. Josh Spiegel of /Film wrote that "if you loved Breaking Bad ... you might have wondered, 'What will happen to Jesse Pinkman next?' It's not even that Vince Gilligan answering that question was a bad idea. It's that a two-hour version of that answer, as beautiful as it looks and as well-acted as it is, was wholly superfluous".[131] Angie Han of Mashable said "there's nothing about El Camino that is essential; while it won't tarnish your memories of the original series, it won't reframe or enhance them, either".[132] Franich compared the film to a television reunion special, calling it "a playful project, very fun, not always necessary".[125] Less complimentary was the BBC's Hugh Montgomery, who described it as "a franchise extension as lazy and vacuous as anything dreamt up on the big-screen".[133] However, Alissa Wilkinson of Vox Media reasoned that the enjoyment of the film "comes from seeing your favorite characters again, not finally resolving missing pieces that have tortured your sleep for six years".[134]

Critics also noted the necessity of having seen the entire series prior to watching the film. Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com wrote that "If you're hazy on what happened in the AMC hit, be warned that El Camino does not hold your hand. It is not designed to exist as a standalone movie as much as something watched after the end of season five".[135] Richard Roeper of Chicago Sun-Times concurred, saying "you'll be as lost as Badger without Skinny Pete if you tried to watch this sharp and compelling sequel without having seen the series".[136] When speaking as to which audience would enjoy the film, Vadim Rizov of Sight & Sound noted "El Camino will only work for fans who can recall who all these familiar faces are – the nostalgic pull and possibility for reconnection are sometimes recapped in dialogue, most of it avoiding the ludicrously expository, but outsiders will be baffled".[137]

Accolades

List of awards and nominations received by El Camino
Award Category Nominees Result Refs
Cinema Audio Society Awards Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Movie or Limited Series Phillip W. Palmer, Larry B. Benjamin, Kevin Valentine, Greg Hayes, Chris Navarro and Stacey Michaels Nominated [138][139]
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Movie Made for Television El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Won [140][141]
Best Supporting Actor in a Movie/Miniseries Jesse Plemons Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directing – Movies for Television and Limited Series Vince Gilligan Nominated [142][143]
Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Television Movie El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Nominated [144][145]
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or Movie Skip MacDonald Nominated
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special Nick Forshager, Todd Toon, Kathryn Madsen, Jane Boegel, Luke Gibleon, Jason Tregoe Newman, Bryant J. Fuhrmann, Jeff Cranford, Gregg Barbanell and Alex Ullrich Nominated
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or Movie Phillip W. Palmer, Larry Benjamin, Kevin Valentine and Stacy Michaels Nominated
Producers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Producer of Streamed or Televised Motion Pictures Mark Johnson, Melissa Bernstein, Charles Newirth, Vince Gilligan, Aaron Paul and Diane Mercer Nominated [146][147]
Satellite Awards Motion Picture Made for Television El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Won [148][149]
Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Aaron Paul Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Long Form – Adapted Vince Gilligan Nominated [150][151]

Notes

  1. ^ During the events of "Buyout" and "Say My Name".[4][5]
  2. ^ a b c As depicted in "Felina".[6]
  3. ^ Identified offscreen as Lydia Rodarte-Quayle.[7][8]
  4. ^ After the events of "Granite State".[6]
  5. ^ As depicted in "Confessions".[6]
  6. ^ During the events of "4 Days Out".[10]
  7. ^ Set around the events of the cold open flashback in "Abiquiu".[4]
  8. ^ The original song by The Platters was previously used in "Mandala".[82]
  9. ^ Where he supposedly had resided since "To'hajiilee".[91]

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