Bad Times at the El Royale was a lot of things, humorous, serious, well-acted, well-directed and visually sharp as getting glass stuck in your head; however, it was long as the border between California and Nevada at 2 hours and 20 minutes. The director and cast brought their A-game to a film that was written and directed by Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods), and starring Jeff Bridges, John Hamm, Cynthia Erivo, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson and Cailee Spaeny, with newcomer Lewis Pullman. Produced by 20th Century Fox, who let Goddard take risks and be creative if he and the cast took a pay cut, comes a new entry into the neo-noir thriller genre.
The risks and chances that Goddard took paid off into a well-crafted film. There are moments that will make you wince when certain characters interact. Billy Lee (Hemsworth) channels a Charles Manson-Jim Jones vibe as a cult leader with charisma. Sullivan (John Hamm) talks like Foghorn Leghorn early on in the film and doesn’t feel out of place. Darlene Sweet (Erivo) is a struggling singer, but her voice is so impressive and soulful that it works perfectly as background music for parts of the film. Emily and Rose Summerspring (Johnson and Spaeny) are two sisters with the most mystic in the film. Father Flynn (Bridges) is a priest who seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The front desk clerk Miles (Pullman) is the man in charge that has to handle all these combustible personalities for a bad night at the El Royale.
The film is set at the mysterious El Royale hotel along the California-Nevada border, which has a different set of rules and prices depending on which state the room is located. These elements add to a good comedy scene early in the film and it gives the hotel some character. Set in 1969 the hotel is past its glory days and is incredibly short staffed with Miles being the only employee onsite. Miles gives the guest an introduction to the hotel that establishes the world the movie is set in. This helps the pacing of the film for the first 30 minutes as everyone is checking in and getting acquainted with each other and their rooms.
Not only do these seven strangers have secrets, but the hotel has its own secrets too, and Goddard shows this in a clever yet entertaining way. The Summersprings relationship is so compelling that it even adds depth to the concierge Miles. The more the characters come together the more their secrets get exposed and things become even more tense. Modern neo-noir style and out-of-order storytelling keep you guessing at what Goddard has planned next in the movie.
The performances are beyond stellar and Goddard does such a great job getting the most out of every single performance. With that said, he gets the most out of Hemsworth, Erivo and Pullman because their performances are standouts. Hemsworth gets a break from being Thor, and he hits the ground running to show off his range. Erivo’s Darlene Sweet is the star of the film, and she gets to show off her voice and it’s beautiful. Lastly, the breakout star is Lewis Pullman, who at the time of this writing doesn’t even have a Wikpedia page, makes the most of his Miles character. Pullman is dynamic in his performance of Miles, who is comedic, timid and badass at different points in the film.
The biggest flaw in the movie is that its third act goes on a little bit too long. There was a great moment to wrap up the movie, but the last 30 minutes or so could’ve been portrayed differently. Billy Lee’s story arch should’ve been a bigger piece of the film instead of so much being packed into the third act. The third act wasn’t enough for me to dislike the film because I had a lot of fun throughout the rest of the film that I was willing to forgive it. If you’re a fan of any of the actors, actresses or director/writer Drew Goddard’s previous work, then I would recommend giving this one a viewing.
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[All Mames Wey]
Bad Times at the El Royale is in theaters October 12th.