20th CENTURY FOX (2018)

 

Director: Drew Goddard

 

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman

What a cool title.

 

Bad Times at the El Royale teams up The Cabin in the Woods director Drew Goddard with the delightful talents of Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cynthia Erivo and Chris Hemsworth – plus the musical flair of Michael Giacchino – and throws them back to 1969. The summer of love has gone and the world is back to apathy and gloom. Surely a stay at an out-of-town border hotel would soothe the soul? Lotta soul going on here (more to the point, a lotta Motown).

On the border of Nevada and California sits the El Royale, a once bustling hotel now near-abandoned and devoid of the lustre the glory days bought. When four strangers - cleric Dock O’Kelly (Bridges), soul singer Darlene Sweet (Erivo), traveling salesman Seymour Sullivan (Hamm), and a not-quite hippie Emily (Johnson) - converge on the site, things start to get messy as their espionage, kidnap and robbery stories intertwine. Throw in the weasly manager Miles Miller (Pullman), Emily’s estranged sibling Rose (Spaeny) and cult leader Billy Lee (Hemsworth) later on and the El Royale is ready for some bad times.

 

Drew Goddard must love noir films. As in, really love noir films. Bad Times at the El Royale is positively oozing noir from every frame and scene – and when done right, that is never, ever a bad thing. In terms of this movie, the vast majority of it is done right but there are’s just a few things that drag it down from the heights it so could have achieved.

 

One ensemble element that works marvellously is the cast. Everyone is uniformly great, with Erivo standing out amongst the crowd and Jon Hamm being eminently watchable once more. Chris Hemsworth emerges to show us guys what we don’t look like and he seemed to have fun in his dishonest role. There are no downers performance-wise, Bridges is ace and Dakota Johnson continues to furiously distance herself from the Fifty Shades franchise with another solid showing.

 

Bad Times is also a movie that looks great, DoP Seamus McGarvey captures a grimy yet somehow colourful setting for the narrative to unfold within. There’s a certain sleaziness to the surroundings that fits just perfectly and really gives off the vibe that this is a place clinging to its golden years. The secret areas are a fun addition and allow for some of the movies best scenes – including a hauntingly beautiful/unnerving dolly shot scene partnered with Erivo’s aching rendition of The Isley Brothers. Everything about the scene is spot on and it comes just as the movie is riding at its highest peak. The mystery element worked well in the opening two acts as each character's motivations were questioned, revealed, backtracked and disguised, I genuinely was sucked in with no real idea of what was to come. The third act felt like a different movie at parts and wasn’t as impactful as the previous two hours of story. Those first two acts aren’t perfect, however, as some of the pacing is extremely awry leaving the movie to frustratingly drag at times.

 

Noir fans will enjoy the twists and turns that Bad Times offers and for the most part, it really is a grimy, intriguing movie. The final act and pacing prevent the movie from really excelling but when it worked, it was fabulous. A shot of grunge, a sprinkle of sleaze, a touch of class, a jolt of violence and a lot of fun on the rocks – there are good times to be had with Bad Times at the El Royale.

October 13th 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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