Warning – This review won’t have spoilers for the movie, but it will have spoilers for the TV show.
Breaking Bad is one of the greatest TV shows of all time, charting one man’s journey from a mild mannered high school science teacher with lung cancer to a murdering, drug kingpin with no limits. The gradual decline in Walter Whites morals and his genuine change from a sympathetic character doing whatever he can to help his family to an evil villian with barely any redeeming features is fascinating to watch. The myriad of side characters that make up the shows supporting cast are all well written and interesting, and the second most important character, Jesse Pinkman, becomes the protaganist for this film.
Jesse’s journey in Breaking Bad was different to Walters, but just as interesting. He began as a stoner drug addict, dealing small amounts of meth and doing some petty crimes, with little remorse or direction in life. Over the course of the series as he becomes more attached to Walt, his criminal deeds grow in severity, but unlike Walt his empathy grows, and he is constantly weighed down and affected by his guilt. The viewers become attached to Jesse because of his genuine conflictions, and the portrayal that he’s always been a good kid at heart, but been led astray by people with more powerful personalities.
The film focuses entirely on Jesse, to the point where he becomes not only the main character, but pretty much the only character for large portions of the movie. It picks up directly where the show left off, with Jesse escaping from his captivity in a Chevrolet El Camino, driving into the night. He ends up at his friends Skinny Pete and Badgers house, where he gets cleaned up, and decides on a plan to evade the law. The film doesn’t have any narration, so it’s up to the viewer to figure out what Jesse is thinking or what his plan is. He doesn’t speak much as he spends a lot of time alone, but his plan appears to be quite straightforward. I won’t reveal what it is, as it could end up spoiling the movie.
It isn’t structured much like a regular film. There isn’t the standard three act structure with the curve around a crisis or exciting moment, but instead it’s a series of events and information. It’s much more like a television episode, and could have easily existed as the final episode of the series rather than a stand-alone movie. This isn’t a problem of course, because this is a Netflix movie – it can be whatever it wants to be, people are watching it at home and the expectations are very different. I don’t find that the structure affected my enjoyment of the movie, instead it was a nice change of pace, and I think it was important in making that connection to the series.
In terms of connections with the series, there are a fair few. Most of the major characters from the series appear in flashbacks dotted throughout the film, which are set at varying points during the shows run, but are all new scenes shot for this. There are other pieces of fan service too, such as locations and other little easter eggs.
The fact that they decided to make it in such a way that it was more like a final episode is clear in that the actual content of the film requires the viewer to know and understand the show, as without having seen Breaking Bad, this movie would make absolutely no sense. It is in no way stand-alone. The film is very nicely shot, and features lots of interesting camera angles and lighting, including one scene in which it is filmed from an isometric point of view whilst Jesse moves from room to room in a house, almost like a rat in a maze. The colours convey the heat of New Mexico well, almost as if the screen is burning, the production value is very high.
As expected of anything connected to Breaking Bad, the acting is phenomenal. Aaron Paul was always great in the series, and he takes it to the next level, delivering a performance that is both tragic and uplifting, giving the viewers a glimpse into the characters soul. All of the other actors do a good job, but they don’t have a huge amount to do in comparison. There is the slight distration that being filmed 5 years after Breaking Bad wrapped, some of the actors look a little different than they did at the time. Whether or not this breaks the immersion is really down to how things like this bother you, but for me it is a minor point.
The main gripe I have with this movie is that it feels largely inconsequential. It acts as a way to wrap up the series a little more neatly, providing new information and plot points and acting as a dive into Jesse’s character – but there really isn’t a whole lot that is new. It’s not a brand new story and there aren’t really many brand new characters.
Despite this, I still found it to be really good. It acts as a very welcome reintroduction into the world of Breaking Bad, and it was clearly made with a lot of love and reverence for the show. As a standalone film it wouldn’t have worked, but as a continuation of the series, it does an excellent job.