Oftentimes a film that attempts to assemble a half dozen moving parts while trying to simultaneously disassemble the viewer’s preconceived notions stumbles. Sometime that loss of footing comes early, as the first few scenes begin to settle in. Sometimes it hides in the middle, as the action rises and the climax approaches. Sometimes it strikes in the final moments, as a resolution is hastily found. Bad Times at the El Royale, however, manages not only to artfully piece together seemingly disparate pieces of its own puzzle, it intrigues you along the way.
The casting alone is impressive. Seriously. El Royale boasts the distinct talents of Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Broad City), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Dakota Johnson (50 Shades), Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, True Grit), Chris Hemsworth (Thor Ragnarok), and Lewis Pullman (Battle of the Sexes). The list is intimidating, even exciting, but it is the deftness with which writer/director Drew Goddard (The Martian, Cabin in the Woods) strings their characters out across each other that brings this film home. Each and every actor feels like their character had their own movie. They have pasts that sit painted on their faces. Goddard has a penchant for penning stories with both depth of character and rising action, but the Daredevil creator outdoes himself in El Royale.
The film itself, I find a bit difficult to talk about without fearing that I might give something away. El Royale is a nuanced and complex film about its character’s sins, their shortcomings, and their will to do better. To be better. Bridges and Erivo dazzle, Hamm embodies Don Draper once again, Dakota Johnson is brooding, and Lewis Pullman absolutely steals the show. And then there is Chris Hemsworth, Marvel’s Thor, but he isn’t the lovable Valhallan in this film. Instead he plays a despicable tyrant cult leader who will make absolutely anyone’s skin crawl right off of their bones.
El Royale is an astute character study, lined with memorable performances, which is all the more impressive when you take into account it’s star studded cast. Fans of mystery will find it in spades here. This is Drew Goddard at his cinematic best. Expect to be on the edge of your seat, trying to get to the bottom of the mess laid out before you. Because at the El Royale, on the border of California and Nevada, fortune and tragedy lay close at hand. | Caleb Sawyer