Bad Times at the El Royale
Bad Times at the El Royale is a performance-driven mystery that's uniquely structured and executed. It's not Drew Goddard's most polished film, but its his most well-assembled, thanks to the likes of Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm and the magnetic Chris Hemsworth.
Drew Goddard‘s Bad Times at the El Royale is a stylish period piece that’s all about unraveling mysteries and conspiracies by way of performance-driven character studies. El Royale might not be Goddard’s most well-rounded film from a script or directing standpoint, but it’s definitely his most well-acted, thanks to his ensemble of larger-than-life characters, played by ace actors and actresses.
The El Royale is a bi-state hotel tucked away from the world. It’s rundown, beat up and full of mysteries as guest after guest checks in for their own varying reasons.
Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) appears to be looking for a quiet spot to rest his eyes on his long journey home, while singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) is preparing for a big performance. Meanwhile, salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) is trying to live it up in the honeymooners sweet (without a bride) and finally, Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) just wants to be left alone.
The El Royale is a place that passes no judgment, nor does it require much of its guests, aside from the night’s deposit and a name for the guest book.
What these guests don’t know is that the hotel brings nothing but trouble.
Bad Times at the El Royale is a story best revealed on the big screen. To ruin the finer plot points would be to rob the audience of an experience that is truly special. That being said, I will only comment on things in the most vague of terms, to avoid any spoilers or unwanted explanations.
For starters, writer/director Drew Goddard has written a characters film. A film that benefits highly from the cast that he has managed to wrestle up for the film. The story itself isn’t quite as twisty or as shocking as a Quentin Tarantino joint, but it’s still a good time.
The film unravels in a chapter-like structure that reveals each character and their true intentions over a timeline that might confuse a few folks, but once you get past the first reveal you’ll quickly become comfortable with Goddard’s approach.
This might be El Royale‘s biggest weakness. I understand and generally like this type of structured film, but for some reason, El Royale had me feeling very disconnected from the characters, whenever a jump would take place.
Yes, it makes some of the reveals a bit more sweet, but it also makes some of the weaker parts of the story drag like a stick in the mud.
Luckily, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm and Cynthia Erivo give strong leading performances that keep the film’s pace consistent and engaging. Bridges especially surprised me with a performance that wasn’t just him giving us another country boy accent. Hamm is somewhat sidelined by Erivo and Bridges unusual chemistry and generally more interesting storyline.
Dakota Johnson isn’t bad, but she’s also kind of forgettable. Her story is overthrown by other entities that are just more interesting than her.
Chris Hemsworth brings an overabundance of magnetic energy to the film that makes you wonder just how he contains it for a now-common role like Thor? Hemsworth chews on the scenery and then spits it into a blender and makes a smoothie out of it, only to drink said smoothie with a great big smile on his face.
The trailers might put too much importance on Hemsworth’s overall connection to the main story, but damn does Hemsworth stop by and say howdy.
His performance demands all of the attention be placed on him and for good reason.
I couldn’t help but feel that El Royale overstays its welcome at times. The film certainly feels its two hour and twenty one minute running time. It’s not that Goddard can’t write a script worthy of such length (or direct it for that matter), but the whole novelty starts to wear thin as the cards start to show and the finale kicks into high gear.
I enjoyed Bad Times at the El Royale, but I didn’t fall in love with it. Part of me blames perfect marketing mixed with overly high expectations, while the other part wonders if perhaps Goddard didn’t have what it took to hone in on such performances without exposing too much detail? The film could’ve used one or two less character cuts to clear its landing.
Bad Times at the El Royale is stylish and fun, relying too much on its characters to tell the story. Drew Goddard has made something special, but your milage may vary when it comes to how effective the film’s look and feel has over the lacking main story.