Aaron Paul drives overall success of ‘El Camino’

By Chic DiCiccio

It took 62 episodes of “Breaking Bad” to watch Walter White (Brian Cranston) go from a timid, beaten high school teacher to an organized crime/drug kingpin. There’s an entire television series (“Better Call Saul,” which you most definitely should be watching) dedicated to explaining how the flawed, yet sweet Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) turns into a sleazy strip mall attorney who rebrands as Saul Goodman. 

Bryan Cranston (right) and Aaron Paul in “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.”
Photo courtesy of Netflix

But what about that other guy from “Breaking Bad?” You know, the one who started out as a dumb kid but slowly became the conscience of a show loaded with disgusting personalities. That would be Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman, the quintessential hooker with a heart of gold. 

It would take an extremely lengthy essay to detail all the horrendous things that happened to Jesse during the run of “Breaking Bad.” He was consistently surrounded by death and chaos, but somehow maintained shreds of human decency. When we last saw him, he sped off into the night in an El Camino after escaping what amounted to slavery at the hands of neo-Nazis. 

That would be when Netflix’s “El Camino” literally begins. This two-hour feature film gives Jesse’s story closure. Whether it is needed or not is in the eye of the beholder but based on the 6.5 million viewers of the film during its initial weekend, it is absolutely necessary. 

Needless to say, it’s tricky to go into the detail of “El Camino” without completely ruining the film. It details the three days of Jesse’s life after his escape, but what really makes the story move are the flashbacks to different moments in his life. Several beloved characters show up and, in short moments, show the impact that they had on Jesse.

Unfortunately, a character that abused Jesse also is a big player. Todd (Jesse Plemons), the cold as ice sociopath, gets a load of screen time and proves to be even more dead inside than once believed. Plemons is so eerily fantastic in the role that it proves just how underused he was on “Breaking Bad.” In short, if you hated him then, you’re going to really hate him now. 

Writer/director/creator Vince Gilligan employs the same off-kilter style from the series in this film. There are moments where a simple camera angle makes a stressful situation that much more stressful. Gilligan has taken all the story elements and themes of a western and employed them here, complete with an intense buildup to a massively violent event. 

If he never acted again, Aaron Paul will have something that few actors ever have: an iconic character that will be remembered forever. Watching Paul turn an immature punk into the character that he becomes in “El Camino” is an entertainment spectacle. Paul is on screen for virtually every second of the movie, and his presence is nothing short of commanding. It’s a perfectly written role with the perfect actor cast in it. On a sad note, “El Camino” is the final film for Robert Forster, who died the day it was released on Netflix. He’s in quite a few scenes, and his role sums up his acting career: full of heart and warmth, but with a hint of deviousness. So, if you haven’t done it, go watch every episode of “Breaking Bad” then follow it up with “El Camino” so that you can say you’ve seen the greatest television show ever created in its entirety.