Rob Reviews "Bad Times At The El Royale"
Drew Goddard is guy that has been deeply rooted in geek culture for almost two decades, working on projects from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Lost” and even the Netflix hit “Daredevil”. While mostly writing and producing, he has not had much time in the director’s chair past “The Cabin in the Woods,” although he will handle the upcoming “X-Force” film. Sometimes to get there, you have to take the process into your own hands, and he has done so with a top secret script he wrote called “Bad Times at the El Royale”.
The El Royale is a hotel that sits on both sides of the Nevada/California border that at one time was one of the hotbeds of social activity. As time has gone on, its popularity has waned to the point of almost complete desolation, but on one fateful night in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, a group of strangers including a priest (or is he?) named Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), an aspiring singer (Cynthia Erivo), a traveling salesman (Jon Hamm), and a hippie drifter (Dakota Johnson) will have their lives and fates intersect that will change all of them forever.
When first doing my pre-show homework, I groaned when I saw the 141-minute run time, but I was still intrigued by the trailers that I had seen that just seemed to tell me enough to keep me interested. (So, mission accomplished there.) What I found was a whirlwind of a film that absolutely blew me away. The storytelling here is so rich that time doesn’t seem to matter, unfolding by following each person by room and instance at some point that overlap and jump around in a way that is not confusing at all. There is no doubt in my mind that this is (as a friend of mine that accompanied me to the screening said) a love letter to all things ‘90s Quentin Tarantino in the best possible ways. There are multiple points that are reminiscent of his seminal film, “Pulp Fiction,” but not in that way that caused me to ask for originality. The violence is a-plenty, the dialog rich, and most of the shots Goddard uses take something simple and make it simply beautiful, showing multiple perspectives that give even more depth to the story as it reveals itself to the audience.
With a script like this, it takes a special group of actors to pull it together, and there is literally no bad performance from anyone involved here. The cast is rounded out with Lewis Pullman as the bellman that is chock full of secrets and Chris Hemsworth, whose involvement I don’t want to spoil, but believe me when I say this: “Bad Times at the El Royale” could be the best work I have EVER seen him do. He is at his absolute dark and creepy best here that gave me the heebie jeebies. The forty-minute climax of this film (which in most cases is a VERY bold choice to try to do) is intense and kept me on the edge of my seat. There was pure, unadulterated silence in the theater as everything played itself out until the end credits.
If there is a downside, it is simply because I feel there has to be another cut of this film that runs even deeper than the almost two and a half hours that made it to the theater. There are certain plot points that wind up being red herrings that do not appear to have been originally, and if this thing went a few minutes longer to flesh these things out, it would not bother me in the least.
Part film noir, part pulp novel, and part ensemble film, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is one that I personally could watch over and over again, perhaps finding little things here and there that I did not see before. I hope there is a “Director’s Cut” to follow for home viewing in the future to get some of the things I felt it was missing down the road, but that should not deter anyone from seeing this amazing and gripping film.