Bad Times At The El Royale - Review
Every year there is a movie that surprises everyone. Bad Times At The El Royale is that movie this year. You don't see pulpy noir thrillers anymore, let alone great pulpy noir thrillers. Director Drew Goddard did outstanding work, crafting one of the best movies of the year.
I liken Bad Times to if Quentin Tarantino directed Clue. Movies with non-linear storytelling are tricky to crack sometimes. Goddard does it perfectly. The film starts with flashback, then jumps to a group of different people checking into a hotel, and then things slowly become crazier after that.
Each character gets their time to shine, and each character has something interesting or unique about them. John Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, and Lewis Pullman all elevate the already great source material. But no one in the movie shines more than Cynthia Erivo. What a find she is! Talented in both acting and singing, she is far and away the STAR of the movie. Her journey is the most fulfilling out of anyone's.
As if the script, cast, and directing weren't good enough, the visuals are stunning too. Nearly every frame is a work of art, but there are 3 or 4 shots that are absolute masterpieces. You could freeze frame them, and get them professionally framed and hung in your home.
The non-linear approach works here, due to big, flashy, old fashioned title cards. These "segments" of the film are the character driven ones, that bring us up to speed on each person, until we reach present time, and the plot moves forward. The pace never suffers for this, nor does the flow of the story.
There isn't much to criticize in this movie. It could maybe be 10 minutes shorter, but I can't think of what I would cut. Every moment is entertaining. On the other hand, Chris Hemsworth's character, Billy Lee, is a bit one dimensional. They would need a bit more time giving him some depth. So that doesn't solve the first problem at all.
Bad Times is best enjoyed the first time when you just let yourself go for the ride. Let Goddard and the cast take you on a journey, and you will thank them afterward.
While the journey is fun, the film explores some serious issues. Namely, religion/cults, addiction, and life altering diseases. Bad Times gives the proper amount of time to each one.
For those who need every little thing answered you might be slightly disappointed. There is a mystery presented that is open for some interpretation. You can make a pretty educated guess, based off of the clues given, but it is like the suitcase in Pulp Fiction. An important macguffin that doesn't try to hide the fact that it is just a macguffin.
One of the greatest tricks movies pull on us is to let us feel for, and root for, despicable people. There is definitely a "bad guy" of the movie, but most of the other characters are no saints. Yet, we root for them, and want them to succeed in their mission.
There are times during the journey that you aren't sure who to trust or what to believe. That is the fun of it. There have been a lot of "cookie cutter" movies out there lately. They are perfectly entertaining - I like cookies a lot. But to experience something wholly original and unpredictable is such a breath fresh air now days. I love experimental art, and when it lands every hit it takes, you know that it is something truly special.
Most people will like this, but there might be some who find it too violent, or maybe even too stressful. It's not over the top in either of these. It is the perfect amount. But they certainly don't pull any punches.
There are still plenty of movies I haven't seen yet this year, but it is a safe bet to say that Bad Times At The El Royale will be on my Ten Favorite Movies Of The Year list. I have a feeling it will be on yours too.
Bad Times At The El Royale is in theaters now. Don't deprive yourself of some of the most fun you'll have this year.