Quick Hit: Film noir that twists down until it’s almost pointless in nature.
Sometimes when you take a film and begin to twist, the fibers that come apart are actually more interesting than the story itself. This is something that Drew Goddard, writer and director of The Cabin In the Woods (if you haven’t seen that, please check it out), knows and has slowly built a career out of. He also realizes that when you have a bunch of fantastic character actors, sometimes the best thing you can do is just let them talk it out. Unfortunately, he gets a little too fancy for his own good here – but let’s get to that later.
Today’s film is Bad Times at the El Royale. The El Royale is a gimmick hotel that straddles the border between California and Nevada, with the Nevada side having a casino (now defunct) and the California side having a liquor license and a one dollar up charge. Checking into the hotel are, seemingly for the first time in years are a group of characters – Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), who is a R&B backup singer, Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) who is a salesman, and hippy Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). This cast of characters is immediately engrossing to watch, and it’s clear that each of them has more backstory then is immediately given. So does the hotel, as given by an opening scene in which a man hides a duffel bag under the floorboards in one of the rooms, and then waits until he is murdered. The hotel has more to hide, and Goddard parses it out throughout the movie.
If that sounds like a lot of plot, it is, and the film runs a shade under two and half hours to compensate. At no time did I feel bored, per se, while watching this one, but I did frequently wonder when it was going to end. That’s because, as the film goes along, characters are removed and new characters are introduced, and the film starts to feel like a new film at that point. It’s very clear that Goddard is a student of Quentin Tarantino in this, because his film feels very segmented in its parts. And, of course, there has to be some larger symbolism in it overall as well. So the whole thing (at least to me) feels like it’s trying to tell a deeper story. Some of it is pretty obvious – the race relations regarding Erivo’s character are right at the surface – but others are deeper, and the story can even be seen as an allegory for purgatory or hell.
In the end, I probably won’t spend time watching this one again, because it just didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. The movie ended, I shrugged, and then I opened the Blu-Ray case and put it back in the “to be returned to the library” pile. While I can appreciate the craft that went into crafting the screenplay, with all its twists and turns, I can’t help thinking that the story would have functioned better overall as a stage play, albeit with less set. That’s why I’m going to give this one a “C-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"