Director: Drew Goddard
Main Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, John Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewiss Pullman, Chris Hemsworth
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Movie Run Time: 2hrs 22 min
Review Read: ~ 10 mins
Bad Times at the El Royale is like an antique radio you chanced upon in a vintage store – You buy the radio and feel this sense of delight the moment you know it works, but like all antiques, it loses its charm at the later parts of their shelf life.
I dove into the movie with speculation that it might suffer from under-representing its characters given its star-studded cast. Although movie does suffer from this condition, it can be easily dismissed with its strong acting, partly engaging story, and memorable soundtrack.
The movie pretty much explains itself – The El Royale is a hotel set in Tahoe, smack on the border of Nevada and California. It used to be a place that was famous for its hospitality for high-profiled individuals in the 60s. 10 years later, it has lived passed its years and lost many permits. The film sets us with different characters from different backgrounds seeking lodging in the hotel with different agenda, and then things get bad between them. So, bad times at the El Royale.
The first 25 minutes of linear story-telling was stellar with the character introductions. The film has this theatre-like way of introducing the characters one by one, giving time for the audience to really get to know them and build their first impressions – These characters are almost immediately likable.
The next quarter of the film has this coda-like non-linear storytelling through vignettes of different characters in the different hotel rooms converging into a singular collective occurrence. These vignettes give us snippets of who these characters are and what made them end up in the El Royale. It helped leave the audience more and more intrigued, having this “oh, this is interesting” moment when we get to see different perspectives of the characters.
However, the film gets rid of the idea as quickly as it picks up, the rest of the film becomes this linear set of storytelling when Chris Hemsworth’s character is introduced. The last quarter of the movie didn’t hold this form of je ne sai quoi to it, but nonetheless, it’s still engaging in its investment for a good ending.
All in all, the cast did pretty well in their characterization. Jeff Bridges plays “Father Flynn”, a robber masquerading as a priest with probably Alzheimer’s. Given Jeff’s age and Hollywood experience, his characterization of an aging person suffering from memory loss is believable. Darlene’s (Cynthia Erivo) character is played intimately well for one who’s “just a singer” – She has the sweetest demeanor with the strongest of heart for a woman. She also has a beautiful voice. Lewis Pullman’s acting as Miles, the front desk receptionist of the hotel, is honest; you can’t help but empathize with his character throughout the movie and vouch for his objectives. John Hamm’s role as Laramie was explosive, leaving you to desire more of him even when the credits role. The weakest links were of Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth. I felt that Johnson’s role as Emily could’ve been explored more with her motivations on the choices she made that led her to the El Royale. Maybe Jeff Bridges’ story arc could be boiled down just a tad bit to give room for Dakota Johnson’s character. Then again, it’s a two and a half hour movie – We wouldn’t want the runtime to match to that of Return of the King. Lastly, I don’t know if that was the intent for Chris Hemsworth’s character, but Billy is more annoying than he is rebellious and altogether menacing as a villain.
I would, finally, like to give credit for the soundtrack. I think I’m quite the sucker for late 60s, early 70s music. The soundtrack is filled with songs that fit the scenes so well and that you could so easily sing along to them like Darlene’s own rendition of Phil Collin’s You Can’t Hurry Love, or the background music of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
Given it’s semi-engaging story that should’ve used more of what made the story interesting in the first place, I would still like the give Bad Times at the El Royale my stamp of approval because of its great soundtrack and generally strong acting from the cast. I’d recommend you catch the movie in a cinema near you.