Written and Directed by: Drew Goddard
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman, Chris Hemsworth
Runtime: 140 min
Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe's El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption... before everything goes to hell.
Everything about this movie excited me: the single location aspect of the story, the Quentin Tarantino vibe, the confined mystery-thriller that I'm a fan of, the fact that Drew Goddard writes and directs, Michael Giacchino composing the score and finally an astonishingly talented cast, filled with legends and future stars. Bad Times at the El Royale is one of the most underrated films of this year, I can't believe how many people think this is just "okay".
Gosh, I'll say it straight away: Jeff Bridges delivers an award-winning performance, even if he gave better displays throughout his career. He incorporates Father Daniel Flynn in such a heartfelt and powerful way that I wanted him to be on-screen every single second. His character has an unique trait which conveys hopelessness and depression, making me care so much about him.
That is, in fact, my biggest compliment to the movie: its characters. Drew Goddard writes fantastic scripts, each with their own subplot which carries tremendous character development. I couldn't find a single drop of lazy exposition or meaningless dialogue. Every line in the film has a purpose and every character a role to play. I love how everyone has secrets, and Goddard's idea to structure the story through chapters is absolutely brilliant.
Cynthia Erivo gracefully portrays Darlene Sweet, a singer trying to catch a breakthrough. Cynthia is marvellous, and she sings like an angel. Her chemistry with Bridges is palpable, and their interactions are some of the movie's best. Jon Hamm is terrific as Laramie Sullivan, bringing his charm and humor to his performance. He handles long takes like no one else, and he has an exceptional scene involving an obscure part of the hotel.
Lewis Pullman steals the show as the receptionist, Miles Miller. This guy can act! Extraordinary performance from this future star, I genuinely hope this film can catapult him to some more prominent parts. Finally, I left the last three to the end because they are my only issue with the movie: Dakota Johnson (Emily), Cailee Spaeny (Rose) and Chris Hemsworth (Billy Lee). These three deliver great performances, especially Hemsworth, as expected. My problem is not there.
While every other subplot or backstory is passionate and captivating, the story of this trio seems, at least, farfetched. Having in mind the tone of the film and the other characters' stories, the chapters involving Emily, Rose and Billy feel strangely cliche and unrealistic. Goddard's imagination and creativity are some of his best attributes, but due to his exaggeration of these characters' backstories, the last 20-30min of this movie feel ... Awkward.
Nevertheless, he compensated this problem with a masterful direction. Seamless handling of the camera, shooting some long takes and outstanding dialogues that are stuck in my memory. The set design is superb and feels so resemblant of what a famous motel would be, giving it a realistic vibe. Excellent editing, great cinematography and a score worthy of listening for weeks without end. This is yet another proof that a film's soundtrack can be as important as the scene being filmed.
The R rating elevates this movie to a whole other level. There is no fear of showing blood or very intense shootouts. When things start going down, they REALLY go down! The action in display keeps the audience on edge and constantly entertained. The mystery surrounding each character and the hotel itself is intriguing to the last minute. This might not be at The Hateful Eight's level, but kill me if it's not freaking awesome!
Since this film came out in the same week as First Man (at least, here in Portugal), I can see a lot of people choosing to watch the latter and I can't blame them. Both movies have a phenomenal cast and a director who understands the craft of filmmaking. If you prefer an artistic biopic about one of the most impactful persons in humankind's history over a gritty, bloody, vein-pumping confined mystery-thriller, go ahead. You won't be disappointed with any of your choices... I know which one I would choose, though.
In the end, Bad Times at the El Royale is probably going to be a bit overlooked, and it's undoubtedly one of the most underrated films of the year. If not for an understandable slip in a trio of characters, this had everything to be at the very top of the best movies of 2018. Phenomenal cast, with outstanding performances from everyone, especially Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo. Drew Goddard is making his way up my list of favorite screenwriters, and he's got his name on the list of extremely competent directors as well. A lost narrative structure is brought back to elevate a brilliant R-rated mystery, filled with memorable scenes and a fantastic score. Please, don't miss this one or you'll regret it!