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For a film filled with dig-your-fingernails-into-your-palm tension, it’s both unexpected and unsurprising that one of the most gripping moments in the new Netflix film “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” centers on pizza. As Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) holds a loaded gun at his side, Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) tries to talk him down with the promise of the kind of greasy food his prisoner hasn’t had in months.
By that point in the “Breaking Bad” timeline, Jesse is a man so broken that he’s even lost the luxury of a snapping point. So his brandishing the gun isn’t a wild, desperate threat against a captor who’s taken him out to the desert. Nor is Todd’s response some overbearing shouting into submission. It’s two men having a largely nonverbal conversation, one that could easily end in one or both of them dead.
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That’s “Breaking Bad” in a nutshell. Sure, there will always be the “I am the danger” T-shirts or the memories of Tio Salamanca’s last moments before turning his nursing home quarters into a blast site. But what separated “Breaking Bad” was what happened in between those literal and figurative explosions. The conversations around the conversations put the audience on the same level as the characters themselves, trying to parse out meaning from the slightest change in inflection or turn of phrase.
“El Camino” is Jesse’s story, so it makes sense that Paul is the anchor of the story. Writer/Director Vince Gilligan paints Jesse at a point where his arc, playing out relatively close to real time, can’t be a broad or obviously noticeable one. Paul is walking a tightrope with Jesse’s fragility to the point where just being able to have a conversation is a triumph. Being on the run again does shake him back into some of his old patterns,...
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