Movie Review: Bad Times at the El Royale

Simple Review: A naughty night at a cheap hotel? Count me in!!

The past few weeks have been a challenge to us movie lovers. No, that is putting it mildly, it has been a wave of bad to mediocre movies eroding the sands of quality cinema. Fear not my steadfast reader, we finally have a film that rises above the pack to genuinely entertain us. Writer/Director Drew Goddard brings us his take on film noir with a style that would make Tarantino proud in Bad Times at the El Royale. You can tell I enjoyed this movie, but bring your cash to the front desk anyway and let’s rent a room so I can wow you with my big review. It will leave you satisfied and excited for our next rendezvous. 

Bad Times at the El Royale brings us the story of seven people who are not what they appear to be, ending up at The El Royale, a not so normal hotel, on one stormy night that ultimately ends with them all having to face their own truths. I am going to try to avoid spoilers in this review, which will be a challenge since this film has so many twists and turns it will be hard to comment on them without giving something away. I am up to the challenge, my friends because I know YOU deserve my best! This is Drew Goddard’s second film as a director, his first being the criminally underrated Cabin in the Woods, and he does not disappoint. This is almost a brilliant picture that keeps you engrossed in the story AND the characters, something that most big movies miss on. Yes, I did say almost. There are some things, especially at the end, that keeps this movie from being perfect.

There are so many positives in this movie, it is difficult to pick a starting point! The cast is absolutely perfect, and give some of the best performances, as a whole, that I have seen in some time. Each actor owns the character they play, and each part is so well written that is a joy to watch them work. ( There is one glaring weak character we will get to later. Enjoy the antici…..pation( Rocky Horror reference)). This may be one of my favorite Jeff Bridges performances, and that is saying a ton for an academy award winner and The Dude! There is so much I want to say, but I will give too much away, just know he does such an amazing job with his character’s motives clashing with the effects of aging. It is a class in great acting. Jon Hamm gives another excellent performance as the traveling salesman with ulterior motives to be at the hotel. He chews up the scenery in his introduction to the audience, having fun with his dialogue. The rest of the cast is excellent, but two performers stood out: Cynthia Erivo, as Darlene Sweet, and Lewis Pullman, as Miles Miller. Cynthia is amazing as a struggling singer trying to get her career back on track. She gives not only a vulnerable performance but when she needs to, she adds strength to Darlene as she stands toe to toe with the “bad guys.” Lewis Pullman, son of Bill Pullman( the president in Independence Day), is such a sympathetic character, dealing with his job at the hotel and the sordid things he has seen and done, that it gives more to what could have been a one-note or joke of a character. That is called good screenwriting meeting good acting!

On the filmmaking side, this film gives us movie geeks so much to love. The use of the camera is brilliant. I loved the opening scene that plays in front of a static camera, with no dialogue. Goddard lets us watch the scene and take it in to start the mystery. Later we learn why it was a static camera, which is such a great way he ties scenes together in this movie. He uses tracking shots to perfection, letting the audience gather information about plot and characters with little or no dialogue. This is the sign of a good filmmaker, as too often we hear so much exposition from characters in movies it gets dumbed down. Goddard knows film is visual storytelling, and he uses the camera to convey information, as well as using it to sucker us in for some big surprises! ( Yes, I am geeking out on the technical side, it is just so fun). Goddard wrote this film as well, and, for most of the film, it is exceptional. He has the talent to know when to have characters talk, and when to have them stay silent. I know, I am rambling a bit, but it is just nice to not have a film dumbed down, and let me participate as an audience member. It makes the whole experience more satisfying as the film proves me right or proves me wrong in the theories I have in my mind as to what will happen next. Again, this is excellent filmmaking from top to bottom. To end the technical side, the color palettes, the score and setting this in the sixties all do nothing but add to the overall quality of the flick!

This will be compared to a Tarantino movie ad nauseam, and it is a fair comparison as Goddard does use flashbacks as well as showing the same scene from different character perspectives that we have grown to love about Tarantino. That is about where it ends, as Tarantino would have made this a darker, more violent movie, which is not what this film needed. That being said, fans of Tarantino will smile a time or two during Bad Times at the El Royal.

Like most stays in a cheap hotel, the build-up is more fun than the payoff.  The end of Bad Times at the El Royale doesn’t deliver on the promise of the first 2/3 of the movie. It brings in the one character that is one dimensional and a bit pointless, Billy Lee, played by Chris Hemsworth. Chris does a good job as the character, and it is nice to see him playing against his normally heroic characters. ( And yes ladies, he is either shirtless or has his shirt opened to let you see his abs) There is nothing more to Billy Lee than what he is, and his part in the ending, while not terrible, just feels wrong for the movie. The other negative from the ending is that it goes on for a long time. There are natural stopping points that Goddard blows past, adding more flashbacks that stop the momentum. Like I said earlier, this is almost a perfect movie, but the end doesn’t do it justice.

Well, we have reached the time when we need to check out of this cheap hotel, so lets put on the same clothes we had on last night and get back to our normal lives. I am not sure about you, but when I think back to our stay at The El Royale I will have a big smile on my face. This was an exceptionally well made, and well-written movie that I highly recommend, and I can’t wait to see Drew Goddard’s next cinematic adventure. If you have seen the movie and agree or disagree, comment below to let me know, I’d love to hear from you! If I put in too many cheap hotel and naughty sex jokes for your liking again let me know, I will only laugh at your prudishness, but it is a free country. Please like, comment, follow and share this review so we can take over the internet!

As Always, thanks for your time!

The Movie Psycho


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