Breaking Good – El Calmino Review

This review assumes you have seen Breaking Bad to the end.  There be spoilers ahead of the series from the beginning.

Jesse Pinkman is the hero of Breaking Bad.  No doubt there were many that cheered on Walter White, as he schemed, backstabbed and clawed his way to the top of the “empire building business”, but it was his dumb accomplice, the kid that scrapped by in his chemistry high school class, regularly messed up his plans and had a tendency to shout “Bitch!” at the top of his voice that really grew to be the tragic hero of the show.  Manipulated and traumatised by Mr. White, Jesse was the one that really developed from the guy that was jumping out of a girlfriend’s window as he was running from a police raid on his mate’s kitchen meth lab.  Whilst Walt revealed more of his suppressed character, buried for years beneath his dull high school, family man life, Jesse grew to become increasingly sickened by the world he was being forced into and developed the bravery required to escape.  That is, until he got captured by a group of Nazis and was broken into a shell of a person, forced to cook meth, kept in cage, had his ex-girlfriend murdered in front of him and the life of her son held over him at any sign of him causing trouble.  Although he ultimately escapes his captivity with the help of Walter at the end of Breaking Bad, this harsh and cruel treatment is an area that many felt was a step too far for a man that had already experienced so much trauma in his life.

Looking to correct that wrong is El Calmino, arriving 6 years after Jesse drove away from the Nazis’ hideout, as the police swarmed in to find the body of Heisenberg and his massacre.  Long time rumoured, but rather expertly developed in secret, the film managed to release through Netflix with very little announcement or fanfare, only having been announced back in August.  The lowkey release is rather fitting for what is ultimately an enjoyable nostalgia trip that feels unnecessary for the majority of its run time.

The film picks up directly from where we left Jesse, smashing through the gate for freedom.  What follows is mixture of his run from the police in the days that proceeds and flashbacks to unseen moments from the timeline of the series.  For the most part, these flashbacks show his time in captivity, but we have a few others dotted around the timeline.  Initially, Jesse is clearly traumatised by his experiences whilst being imprisoned, with the shower feeling like a high-pressure hose for him and the ceiling looking like nothing but the bars of his cage.  It sets up for a tale about him having to deal with issues of PTSD, as he barely recognises his closest friends.  These moments feel like we are going to offered a story with a very different tone to what we had with Breaking Bad.  The other continuation of the Breaking Bad universe, Better Call Saul, has already shown that something very different can come from these characters and it initially appears that Vince Gilligan was going to go in another direction with this too.  However, the A Breaking Bad Film tagline on this should offer a clue to where we are with this.  Before long, we are back in the world of high tension in a very pulpy world.  Although clearly remaining damaged, the traumas are soon forgotten, as Jesse goes on a quest to get enough money together to get out of New Mexico.

There are few surprises along the way, with his path and ultimate destination being fairly predictable and pretty much what pretty much everyone expected of it way back in 2013.  In many ways, it echoes the finale of the series, which also offered little unexpected, but still proved to be highly entertaining and a satisfying conclusion for Walter White.  Here, we are also given an entertaining and satisfying conclusion, but this time for Jesse.

As already mentioned, as well as the continuation of the story following the series finale, we are also presented with numerous flashbacks.  The meat of these are from his time in captivity, in particular focusing on his relationship with Todd.  These often feel like moments that were meant to be included in the original series, but had to be removed for time.  They bulk out what Jesse’s captivity was like, as he increasingly experiences Stockholm Syndrome.  Again, these don’t feel overly necessary, with their almost deleted scenes feel.  However, the flashbacks do allow for plenty of opportunity for cameos to appear, ranging from characters, vehicles and even creatures that appeared in the original series.  For many, these will be their favourite moments, offering them that enjoyable nostalgia trip.  They do feed in with the ongoing narrative, so they certainly aren’t arbitrary, but it is clear that the motivation is mostly just to spend some more time with these characters.

The film certainly excels in the way it looks though.  As is mostly standard with Netflix Originals, the film is presented in 4K Dolby Vision and it looks stunning in that format.  The desert scenes pop in a way that even the well shot series doesn’t compare to, whilst the moody dark scenes evoke noir cinema in a way that was only dreamt of by the TV series.  It is here where the film really earns the film title, with excellent work being done by the cinematographer, Marshall Adams, making the whole thing look beautiful in every shot.  This is a treat for anyone that has the TV to display and I’m sure the few cinematic presentations that have taken place will have looked even more special.

Despite the look though, the film ultimately feels like an epilogue to the TV series.  As we see Jesse taking another drive before the credits roll, an expression of contentment echoing Walt’s from the finale and a counter to his own expression during his escape that opens the film, we are presented with an ending that Jesse deserves as the hero of the series.  For those that have never seen Breaking Bad or not reached its conclusion, the film will offer little of interest for them and feel bare bones in its plot.  For those that followed 5 seasons of Jesse developing as a character and showed potential to be a good man, this becomes essential viewing and serves as a fitting ending.

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