On paper, Bad Times At The El Royale reads like a Tarantino or Coen Brothers film, but it’s inconsistent narrative fails to deliver.
What’s Bad Times At The El Royale about?
An eventful night at El Royale, a formerly popular now deserted hotel, where seven stranger’s stories collide.
Why didn’t Bad Times At The El Royale work?
Let’s start with the positives. It’s not a terrible film by any means. It just doesn’t deliver. And it’s that unfulfilled promise leaves you walking away disappointed.
Jeff Bridges’ gives a superb performance as Daniel Flynn, a priest/robber/suffer of dementia. Somehow, you end up feeling sorry for this conniving character.
It feels like Goddard got the nonlinear structure of events right, causing you to jump from the unexpected and revealing more of the character’s stories in the right order to keep you guessing. The revelation of the one-way mirror into the hotel rooms is disturbing but brilliant (I’ll always think of this when I check into a hotel room from now on).
The back story of each character (to a lesser extent Darlene Sweet’s) is interesting and well written so you’re emotionally invested in their very separate goals as no one appears to be what they seem on the surface.
While the film fails to live up to the levels of Tarantino’s, the soundtrack doesn’t, sitting comfortably in the company of Jackie Browne or Pulp Fiction. It reads as a best of soul, featuring the likes of This Old Heart of Mine (The Isley Brothers), Bernadette (Four Tops) and Twenty Five Miles (Edwin Starr), some of which are sung beautifully in acapella by Cynthia Erivo.
And the set design is gorgeous. From the classic cars, neon lights to the self serving vending machines and interior styling.
Is it over yet?
And onto the bad. First is the run time. You really feel like you’ve sat through a 2h22m film. There’s slow burning and interesting (take David Lynch and Twin Peaks as a prime example) and then there’s drawn out and boring. The intro sets the pace as they introduce each of the characters in the hotel lobby. It’s far too detailed for what we need to know. Detail like this in a book or TV series, yes, not in a film.
Even an open-shirted Chris Hemsworth towards the end feels like a last ditch attempt to keep your attention (although he is convincing as the Charles Manson-esque character).
If Goddard had left more on the cutting room floor to make the film tighter, it would still have been a so-so film.
About that ending
The ending is the worst part of the movie, inducing eyes rolls and at one point sarcastic laughter from the audience. Sure, Miles just happens to be an expert shooter.
And Father Flynn cheesily nods when handing Sweet the explicit tape to throw in the fire. Remember, that tape could have been worth a lot of money and Flynn has just lost half of his earnings from the case after agreeing to split the money with Sweet (minus the money which they didn’t grab from the floor as the hotel burns in the background).
Maybe it’s another attempt to convince us he’s actually a good person and you should empathise with him (even though he’s a liar and willing to drug an innocent woman let’s not forget).
It feels like Goddard ran out of ideas, didn’t have a clear vision of how it should all end, eventually settling for a Hollywood happy ending that doesn’t fit considering the events that came before it. The ruthless Game of Thrones style killing of characters unexpectedly is enjoyable and keeps you on your toes. Allowing Sweet and Flynn to escape feels like a cop out.
I’m still not sure why they focused on Darlene Sweet’s backstory. Was it to create more sympathy to justify the peaceful ending of her ‘making it’ in Reno? Cut her backstory and save some time. Or develop Seymour Sullivan’s character (who are they?!). Maybe a Reservoir Dogs stand-off where no one makes it alive would have drawn more attention to Bad Times feeling like a B-rate Tarantino movie.
Or maybe my expectations were too high going into this having read the synopsis. Maybe it’s unfair to compare to Tarantino’s work (although it’s hard when there are so many similarities). Or it would be more enjoyable lying down on the comfort of your own sofa.
But I still feel that on paper, it could have been one of the best films of the year if it ended differently.
What do you think of Bad Times At The El Royale? Tell me in the comments section below!