I’m a fan of film noir, and I’m definitely coming to enjoy modern neo-noir. When I saw the trailers for Bad Times at the El Royale come up on my YouTube subscriptions, my interest was piqued.
The film is set in approximate late ’60s at the titular El Royale hotel, sitting on the border of California and Nevada, and modeled after the Cal-Neva Lodge, though this version of the hotel has fallen on very hard times, with only one staff member (Lewis Pullman), on a fateful day when they get four guests – a traveling Vacumn Cleaner salesman (John Hamm), a soul singer headed to a gig in Reno (Cynthia Erivo), a Catholic priest (Jeff Bridges), and a generally irritable semi-hippie girl (Dakota Johnson).
As the fact that I described this film as a “neo-noir” may have tipped you off, some of the guests (and the staff) are not who they seem, and the secrets of those people will end up coming to the fore over the course of this film.
Now, this is a movie that very much can be spoiled, so even though this review is coming out well after the film’s release, I’m going to keep the film’s synopsis to that, so I don’t want to give away more than I have to. This film isn’t dependant on one big twist the way something like The Usual Suspects was, but it does base a lot of its tension on the control of what information the viewer has. This does mean that the film has some grounds for repeat viewing, once you know what’s coming, so you can see what clues are laid out in the film when, but it’s also better to go into the film mostly cold.
The film’s cast is fantastic, with the main five putting in some intense performances in the movie. In particular, Erivo, Pullman, and Johnson put in performances that put them in a strong position of getting Best Actress or Actor nominations. The music in the film also generally does a good job of setting the mood both through the score and through the use of period-appropriate music used diegetically (and not any of the cliched pieces that you’d expect… aside from “Hush” by Deep Purple”.)
The film is definitely worth seeing on the big screen, if possible. I can see this movie not being a big mainstream thing that sets the box office on fire, but I can see it as the king of thing that gets some serious legs with a long enough box office run, plus home video and streaming.
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