BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
All of us have secrets. All of us seek redemption.
But what if the secrets are deadly and the redemption is phoney?
In Bad Times at the El Royale, writer/director Drew Goddard takes us to a run-down hotel/motel on the border between California and Nevada (near Reno) in the late 1960s. The border is more than geographical, it is an existential border between lives that could be and lives that are.
The 'prequel' opening shows a man burying a bag under the floorboards of one of the rooms. Ten years later ....
Four travelers arrive: a traveling salesman (Jon Hamm), a priest (Jeff Bridges), a singer (Cynthia Erivo) and a mysterious young woman (Dakota Johnson). Each of them appears to be something other than who they claim to be. Even the motel clerk (Lewis Pullman) is a bit off - he is preoccupied by something other than his simple duties.
What happens in the next 2 hours and 20 minutes is a roller coaster ride that starts slowly in order to build up to its dramatic moments so that it can get over that peak of background detail and start the real ride. And while Reno had very little rain in the 1960s (its yearly average has nearly doubled in recent years due to the fake global warming) its yearly average rain falls in one night soaking the characters and their shimmering world.
It is difficult to review a movie when almost everything you can say about its plot is a spoiler. So, let's forget the plot - it's just a vehicle like the cars you ride in on the roller coaster.
The real story is the interaction of the iconic characters that Goddard takes from classic film noir movies: the good/bad guy, the beautiful and beautifully talented victim, the child-like bad girl, the break-the-rules cop, the killer seeking redemption and finding it only through doing what he does best, the charismatic psychopath cult leader - yeah, there's a lot going on in this movie. All of this is wrapped in up in reflecting mirror paper that gives it all a House of Mirrors quality.
Vaguely reminiscent of a score of film noir classics, but still its own wonderful mixture of crashing iconic plots, Bad Times will take you to places you have only nightmared about.
Finally, it has one of the best juke box scores of any movie in recent years. With more than a dozen hits from the 60s, many of them sung by the impeccable Ms.Erivo (who won a Tony for her performance in The Color Purple), Bad Times is - ok, I gotta do it - Bad Times is a guaranteed good time for you. Sorry.