|Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and |
Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) waiting to check in at the El Royale. (20th Century Fox)
Writing a review of Bad Times at the El Royale is difficult partially because it’s a hard film to describe, partially because I don’t want to give too much away and partially because it doesn’t offer much redemption for its characters and yet, I liked it anyway. It makes you think. It has a mix of everything I like in a great movie: atmosphere, distinct characters, mystery, quirkiness, fantastic photography and a little bit of humor too. While not all of the characters are likable, they are all fascinating. Each isn’t exactly who they claim to be and because of that, you want to know about them. Every character is intriguing and every one of them is hiding some sort of secret.
Now just a shell of its former glory, the fictional El Royale resort is located near Tahoe and literally on the border between California and Nevada where a literal red state line separates the motel into two halves: “warmth and sunshine to the west” and “hope and opportunity to the east.” The year is 1969 and Nixon has just been inaugurated into the presidential office, but the El Royale, once a hotspot for the Hollywood elite, has now fallen on, well, bad times. The place lost its gambling license and its clientele with it. The place is empty and void of any employees except for desk clerk Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman). However, even he is missing when six strangers stop in for a room for a night. The guests are Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who is friendly enough, a Supreme wanna-be singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), traveling vacuum cleaning salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) who is insistent in wanting the honeymoon suite, the mysterious Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) who hides her face with her large sunglasses, her sister Rose (Cailee Spaeny) who is waiting in the car and Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) who is soon to arrive. Every person at the El Royale has a story and the movie shares them all. They all have a reason to be there, but none of them for each other. Like a game of Clue, some are good, some are bad and some are just in the way. This story isn’t about one mystery, it’s about seven mysteries. It's sort of a Alice in Wonderland story where all of the characters fall down the same rabbit hole wishing they hadn't.
All in all, this is a good story with even better storytelling. All of the mysteries will be revealed, (well, the important ones anyway) but it takes time and not all audience members will be on board for the odd pacing of the story. Some scenes are played out incredibly long while others are short and full of action. And some scenes are shown numerous times from different angles. Some of the violence is over-the-top, but not extreme or gory as one would find in a Quentin Tarantino flick and surprisingly, the movie ends on a fairly happy note. Not a “there’s-no-place-like-home” ending, but at least it’s not a downer.