By Christian Tesfayespecial to Fortune
Bad Times at the El Royal is not a mystery thriller but a brief glimpse into what can occur when many eccentric, less than moral and shifty individuals are confined to a small area. Christian Tesfaye awards 7 out of 10 stars.
In all honesty, drama does not require much more than two characters – sometimes one – and a mere surrounding, even a room. In that the ultimate purpose of art is to understand the human condition, for which conflict is the chief tool, any two humans anywhere on Earth are bound to have a difference of opinions. The rest is drama.
But cinema has always been relentlessly extravagant. I have heard actors in superhero and action movies describe their movies as being about friendship and morality. The Fast & the Furious franchise is usually marketed by its makers as a tribute to “family”.
There is no need to level buildings or show the destruction of cities to make a point about love, friendship, hate or sorrow. Human beings are resourceful enough to produce a captivating drama with the bare minimum. Everything else is window dressing, and Bad Times at the El Royale knows it.
Bad Times at the El Royale – which hitherto I will refer to as Bad Times – is a beautifully shot, brilliantly acted and well-plotted movie. It is the Hateful Eight, except that it takes place in the late 1960s; it is not snowy outside the abode much of the action takes place in; not everyone is an expert shooter; and there is more than one woman.
But like that Quentin Tarantino Western, or an Agatha Christie thriller, it places an odd and suspicious assortment of individuals in proximity to each other only to see them self-destruct within hours.
The movie opens with Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and Darlene (Cynthia Erivo) meeting just outside of the El Royale, a hotel that is smack in the centre of the state border between Nevada and California. Darlene is a black woman, with all her belongings in tow, travelling alone, while the priest is a dementia-laden old man that has come to stay at a particularly notorious hotel.
Inside is an empty hotel with just one other customer, Dwight (Jon Hamm), who has been waiting to get a hold of the receptionist that is nowhere to be seen. But they soon find the receptionist, and they are quickly joined by Emily (Dakota Johnson), who comes puffing a cigarette, not to mention an attitude. Things do not seem suspicious right away but only until the day turns dark, the rains come and Dwight finds out that his room is bugged.
The film is not a whodunit; with a single exception, they have all done it. Instead, Bad Times concerns itself with how unhealthy it would be if criminals, big personalities and anarchists suddenly found themselves in a single, albeit big, house, and there was a cash reward for whoever gets to come out of it alive.
Some very pessimistic thinkers may even say it is humanity’s history on planet Earth. The end result is not a pretty picture, except for a sprinkling of redemption here and there.
Drew Goddard, writer and director of the movie, is not new to a humorous take on misery, folly and horror. He, after all, made the delightful The Cabin in the Woods, an excellent movie about how terribly cliché horror movies have become.
He is able to extract some very interesting performances here, especially from Erivo, Bridges and Chris Hemsworth. But even without good performances, the film would have been carried over by its impressive cinematography and careful scene construction.
Goddard dispenses with the current fad of shaky angles and natural lighting. Not that they are bad in themselves, but they are often overused, and few times for the right purposes. If indeed he continues to make such captivating movies as Bad Times and The Cabin in the Woods, he would be worthy of the last name, Goddarad.
But it is Hemsworth, who had worked previously with Goddard in Cabin, that steals the show in Bad Times. He plays the devil wrapped in a Jesus figure. He acts like a prophet, with an established ideology that all and sundry is anarchy, and preaches that there is no such thing as good or bad, which as far as the universe is concerned is true.
The character might have been laughed at if it was not for Hemsworth’s rather unapologetic performance. He dances, gobbles down food and acts promiscuously, all the while exuding an aura of an evil person dead set on leaving a trail of desolation wherever he goes.
It is because of him that this movie becomes a lesson to the truth that for every set of unscrupulous individuals, there will always be another that is more fanatic and corrupt.
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Publish date : 2018-10-30 16:00:58