You can’t say that Drew Goddard did not put his all his effort into Bad Times At The El Royale. The writer-director has delivered a captivating neo-noir and while it’s a little uneven, it does deliver. This 1960s-set mystery is a good looking pic, with great performances but it feels like Goddard has actually given us too much. A running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes means that this one location thriller out-stays its running time by about thirty minutes, and the last act feels more like a way of wrapping things up than an ending which truly serves what has gone before. It’s a shame because there’s so much to enjoy from Goddard’s film.
A group of strangers (Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm) meet at The El Royale, a past its prime hotel that straddles the California/Nevada border. They all have secrets and soon the bad times begin to roll.
The plot of Bad Times At The El Royale seems complex on the surface, but when you peel back the layers (flashbacks, chapters etc) it’s a pretty basic yarn. However, it is a film where every actor brings their A-game. Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson and Jon Hamm are great (even if Hamm gets the short shrift with regards to screen-time). However, the stand-out is Cynthia Erivo as the down-on-her-luck singer. It’s a great performance, one which riffs on the career of Motown singer Darlene Love (she’s called Darlene Sweet). Chris Hemsworth also puts in appearance as the a Charles Manson-style cult leader but it’s more a showcase for his abs workout than his acting chops.
The acting is great but Bad Times At The El Royale also scores very high on a technical level. Martin Whist’s production design is glorious, Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is beautiful and Michael Giacchino’s score is on-point. This is first-class filmmaking.
I didn’t love Bad Times At The El Royale, but I admire the hell out of what it is. Drew Goddard’s story might have worked better as a pulp noir novel, but we’d have missed out on the great acting and technical mastery on display – and I wouldn’t want that at all .
Bad Times At The El Royale comes with an excellent 28 minute making-of. It’s worth watching, but make sure you see the film first!