You are currently viewing At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Bad Times at the El Royale “2018”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Bad Times at the El Royale “2018”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Thriller/Stars: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan, Shea Whigham, Mark O’Brien, Charles Halford, Jim O’Heir, Rebecca Toolan; Voice of: Stephen Stanton/Runtime: 141 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to say that in one of the other universes that must surely exist in the multiverse that we all know and love, the slice of cinema I am reviewing today Bad Times at the El Royale was one that was widely seen as one of the finest slices of cinema the year 2018 gave movie goers. Indeed not only did it garner critical acclaim, but it also made a box office killing (pun intended) as movie goers literally rushed to theaters to check out a film the trailers promised was a very riveting and twists a’plenty puzzler and found themselves also being gifted with a slice of cinema that also operated as a wonderfully pathos-driven character analysis. Of course movie goers would leave their local movie theater with a big smile on their face and then proceeded to tell their friends that “you gotta check this movie out bro!” & thus turned this movie into a bona-fide cultural phenomenon. One that when awards season came around saw, from an acting standpoint, Jeff Bridges’ truly phenomenal performance receive a ton of accolades, fairly new to the land of movie magic Cynthia Ervio being praised for her fantastic turn, and the rest of the cast also receiving varying degrees of praise as well especially when it comes to Chris Hemsworth who literally showed that he could play Charles Manson in a bio-pic with his antagonist role in this. Tragically, this is not that timeline. Instead, this is a timeline where Bad Times at the El Royale opened on October 12th of 2018 to fairly good critical feedback, but only was able to scrounge up 31 million dollars globally. As for why this film wasn’t exactly a financial titan, I guess you could say that the main factor was that this film unfortunately was just overwhelmed by movies like Venom or Halloween that had more of a significant presence on people’s radars. Thus as a result, to say nothing of the fact that movie tickets during the evening can be expensive as heck, movie goers made the decision to go for properties they were familiar with rather than a narrative that was completely novel which saw those movies make quite a bit of moolah and this one not so much. A fact that is quite tragic really because, it may have its flaws certainly, but there is no denying that Bad Times at the El Royale, complete with wonderful work from behind the camera and top-flight work from its brilliant cast of performers, is easily one of the most delightfully seedy as well as pulpy slices of cinema that the past decade sought fit to give us.

The plot is as follows: Bad Times at the El Royale is a slice of cinema that, by and large, occurs over pretty much a single night in the 60s at a formerly-iconic motel known as the (get this?) El Royale. A motel that’s main gimmick (because you know most of these kinds of motels back in the day had to distinguish themselves somehow) is that half of it is in Nevada and the other half in California with the official border running directly through the hotel. With that in mind, we see a group of people soon start showing up at the hotel looking for a room. They are a singer trying to make her way in the music industry named Darlene Sweet, an affable-enough salesman named Laramie Sullivan, and a solemn and slightly curt priest named Father Daniel Flynn (and no Tron fans I’m sorry, but this guy is not related to one Kevin Flynn. Points for effort though). Yet even though the quite loquacious Laramie has no qualms about telling the other two that this hotel was at one time quite the lively and iconic vacation hot spot, it is more than obvious especially when taking into account the motel’s only concierge who takes the form of a young man by the name of Miles that this hotel’s glory days have come and gone. Yet things soon take a slight turn with the arrival of a rebellious and highly aloof young woman named Emily who seems to be hiding…..something and it soon becomes clear that perhaps the other guests might not be entirely on the up and up either. Further complicating things however is the fact that it just as quickly becomes apparent that this hotel might not entirely be what it may look like at first blush. A belief that is soon solidified into fact when one of our cast of characters inadvertently locates a hidden passageway that permits anyone who works at the hotel to act as a voyeur for all intents and purposes and observe what occurs in every single room without the awareness or consent of the room’s occupants. Thus throughout the duration of this night, we see as this slice of cinema decides to split its time amongst the various people at this hotel and their interactions with one another whilst also pursuing their own distinct agendas. Yet things may be uneasy between the sole staff member and the various guests, but things are quickly made even worse when a charming yet downright evil cult leader by the name of Billy Lee shows up at the hotel for…..reasons that quickly place every one at the hotel in no less than mortal peril. Thus with this one-night stay turning into an absolute living nightmare, it remains to be seen not only just who any of these people truly are, but just as importantly, if any of them will make it through this truly insane night alive.

Now behind the camera, it should be said that Goddard with this slice of cinema manages to engage in yet another insidious breakdown of another iconic genre of movie magic in the form of the neo-noir genre. Indeed taking place in the world of the United States of the 60s, an era where politics was quite the tumultuous arena due to the Civil Rights Movement and the conflict in Vietnam, this slice of cinema is able to insert itself phenomenally well into the time period and genre complete with paranoia amongst the cast of characters on who they can trust as well as some time honored good ol’ fashioned cloak and dagger espionage as well as political intrigue of the finest caliber possible. Suffice it to say that yes this film is very much a tribute to noir slices of cinema from yesteryear to say nothing of films like Reservoir Dogs or Identity from 2003, but it is also an insidiously brilliant twisting of a lot of the expectations that you might think a slice of cinema in this vein is going to throw your way. Along with that, we see that the narrative structure for this slice of cinema also will remind you of other movies since this slice of cinema may run close to two and a half hours, but it is constantly switching between all the different characters in the movie. As a result, this switch in point of view permits you to view a scene from the perspective of one or more of the characters which then helps them continue to change and grow as people to say nothing of what we know about them. Yet besides the core story which is concentrated on the guests and their experiences at the hotel, the film also makes the narrative choice to incorporate tiny yet significant moments that help show what led them to the motel in the first place. Trust me when I say that these asides might seem distracting, but they are vital. Not just in fleshing out these individuals, but also in establishing distinct narrative points before they occur. Yet for all the good that the structure for this slice of cinema brings to the table, it does also have the unintended effect of bringing the tempo down a couple of notches. As a result of this, plus Goddard’s habit of penning lengthy scenes that are specifically concentrated on the characters, there are moments where this film does hit a cinematic pothole or two. Thankfully yes they may result in you almost zoning out at times, but this film does make sure those moments don’t occur all that often in the grand scheme of things.

Yet even if there are moments where the suspense, the pathos, the thrills, or all of the above in this slice don’t come as swiftly as you might like them to, but there is no denying that the immensely talented cast of this slice of cinema is more than capable of picking up the slack and keeping you, the movie goer riveted. Indeed every single person in this cast is not only a brilliant choice for their respective part, but they also all manage to turn in a fairly solid performance. This starts with land of movie magic icon Jeff Bridges as Father Flynn and he is absolutely terrific in this. Indeed I have always enjoyed Bridges’ work as an actor and here he does a great job at showing us a character whose initial curt demeanor is hiding a guy who definitely has some secrets up his sleeve that he is willing to do anything to protect yet who does also have a sense of humanity to him as well. Suffice it to say that Bridges manages to bring a terrific sense of both gravitas and humanity to the part and it is easily a fantastic role for an actor who has given us quite a few of those. Jon Hamm meanwhile proves to be a delight as the charming, personable, and motor mouthed vacuum salesman who, surprise, might not exactly be who he says he is either. Indeed it might not be the showiest part in the movie, but Hamm manages to make this significantly lower on the totem pole Don Draper-style part right down to his swagger and confidence work perfectly within the grand scheme of things. Now it might not be the biggest part in the movie and it may take a while for him to show up, but I really dug Chris Hemsworth in this movie. Indeed he may have trouble finding parts not named Thor that show his fantastic range as an actor, but this is one part that proves to be the exception since, in the role of Billy, he manages to do a wonderful job of threading the needle between being charming and straight up ruthless to the point that whenever he is on screen you can’t help but be swayed by what he’s saying yet also be scared that any minute he’s going to straight up murder someone. Yet even though some of the other cast members like Johnson and Pullman do a fine job with their respective parts, there is no denying at the end of the day this film’s acting MVP is Cynthia Ervio. No this talented performer might not be as known in the land of movie magic, but to those of you who have a fair amount of knowledge about the theater, this woman is an iconic theater actress who has been in such productions as Sister Act and The Color Purple and whose singing voice is truly divine. Suffice it to say that Ervio manages to bring her extensive talents to this phenomenal cast and manages to outshine all of them in the role of Darlene who is easily the most decent, in terms of morals and behavior, character amongst this group of people who are all to some degree or another sleazy and/or amoral.

All in all I can safely say that every single component of this slice of cinema from the work at the helm to the script and all the way to its top-flight cast manages to merge and make a neo-noir slice of cinema that is both riveting and twist’a plenty in the best way possible. Indeed with this slice of cinema Drew Goddard has managed to show that Cabin in the Woods was by no means an outlier and that he most assuredly is a director who people should get excited for whenever he makes a new movie because his helming voice is one that is delightfully unique in the world of cinema. On top of that, Goddard’s skill as a film helmer also does a wonderful job of ensuring that every single performer in this top-notch cast is able to bring their individual A-Game to this slice of cinema even if the undeniable acting MVP has to be Cynthia Erivo whose performance is incredible, but then she also manages to provide her remarkable vocal talents to this slice of cinema’s riveting soundtrack that, as of this writing, I am still trying to hunt down so if any of you out there know where I can find it please let me know. Yes there are some moments in this slice of cinema that might not go at the speed you would like, but there is no denying that Goddard is immensely skilled at raising suspense and tension to the point that when this slice of cinema is able to unleash that tension it makes things that much more engaging. Now because of the fact that there are quite a few twists in this slice of cinema, I will tell you that what I recommend is that you make your way into this slice of cinema with as little in the way of prior knowledge. Also there might be a few political nods scattered throughout this slice of cinema, but don’t really expect those to be expanded on. Sorry, not sorry. Even with those elements in mind however, there is no denying that Drew Goddard and his immensely talented cast and crew have all managed to sculpt a riveting yet also just plain engaging noir thriller that might not be everyone’s cup of whiskey, but for those of you who love similar slices of cinema like this or are just in the mood to see some fantastic actors operating at the peak of their talents then definitely check in to Bad Times at the El Royale. I promise you most assuredly will, unlike our collection of motel guests, not regret it. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Bad Times at the El Royale “2018” a solid 3.5 out of 5.