Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Breaking Bad will stand as one of the greatest TV shows of the 21st century. When the show premiered on AMC in 2008, a low cable network, it didn’t garner a whole lot of ratings. It stayed low in the ratings for three seasons. After which, the series was made available on Netflix and the show benefited from the rise of binge-watching culture, which emerged around that time. For the next three years into its finale, viewership only increased. In fact, by the last episode, the series had quadrupled its ratings. It was an overwhelming critical success. It received 58 Emmy nominations overall and won 16, including twice for Outstanding Drama Series.
The show followed a high school teacher named Walter White, who after being diagnosed with terminal cancer decides to pursue a life of crime. He begins to sell meth with the help of a young man, a practical teenage boy, named Jesse Pinkman. The actor who played Jesse Pinkman was nominated five times for Outstanding Supporting Actor and won three times. When the series ended, Walter White died and Jesse Pinkman was seen driving an old Chevy El Camino into an unknown future. Writer-director Vince Gilligan, the original creator of the series, does this film, which picks up immediately where the series left off and we see what happens to Jesse after he started driving the El Camino away.
Aaron Paul (Come and Find Me and Eye in the Sky) stars as Jesse Pinkman, a drug dealer who becomes an addict and involved with Walter White, a man who would rise to become a deadly and brutal kingpin in New Mexico. Jesse was his right-hand and principal accomplice through a lot of his crimes. Yet, in the final season of Breaking Bad, Jesse started developing a conscience and turned against Walter White. Jesse was breaking “good” or at least trying. Eventually, he just wanted out of the crime world all together. Walter White puts a hit out on Jesse, but a white supremacist gang captures Jesse and puts him in an underground cage where he’s tortured and kept as a slave.
This film follows what Jesse does in the days instantly after he escapes that underground cage. There’s an intense level of PTSD that he suffers. He’s also desperate and scared, seemingly running from everyone. Paul proves why he was nominated and why he won three times. His performance here is breathlessly incredible, as Gilligan yanks him from one terrifying or unnerving situation to another. It can feel like one long episode of the series, perhaps too long, but Gilligan doesn’t allow things to slow down too much or drag for that long within scenes. Jesse stays on edge, as he struggles to get out of the state of New Mexico and possibly out of the country, as the police are now after him. In that regard, the film is thoroughly entertaining.
Fans of the show will appreciate, the cameos from a lot of the characters from the original series, including Walter White himself. The best cameo isn’t really a cameo, but a supporting actor here. Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights and Fargo) reprises his role of Todd, one of the white supremacists who tormented and kept Jesse prisoner in the underground cage. He’s just as creepy and chilling as he was in the final season of the series. The most poignant cameo though, is Robert Forster, who passed away on Oct. 11, the day this movie was made available on Netflix and in theaters. He’s great as Ed, the vacuum repairman.
Gilligan does come up with a couple of new characters who have small roles in this narrative but make a sizable impact. Scott MacArthur, who plays Neil, and Scott Shepherd, who plays Casey, are those new characters who make an impact. They appear to be white supremacists who were in league with Todd. Common interests pit Neil and Casey against Jesse. In those moments, the film becomes a kind of modern Western, pulling in themes and visuals that invoke the Wild West, depicted in those kind of Western films. It makes this film surprising and fun by invoking those things.
As such, one doesn’t need to have been a fan or seen much of the series to enjoy this film. Unlike with the Downton Abbey film, having been a fan is not really required. It enhances the experience, but you won’t be hindered if you’ve never seen a single episode. You’ll just be baffled during Walter White’s appearance. In Downton Abbey, one can revel in the production design and costumes, as well as the performances to a degree. Here, one can revel in the acting and action, but the narrative is more engaging here.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 2 mins.
Available on Netflix.