Bad Times at the El Royale
Written and Directed by Drew Goddard
Starring Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman, Chris Hemsworth
Drew Goddard, the man who adapted “The Martian” novel to an Academy Award nomination and directed “The Cabin in the Woods”, brings us a noir-lite film in “Bad Times at the El Royale,” featuring an all-star cast set in the late 1960’s.
Taking cues from both Alfred Hitchcock and Quentin Tarantino, Goddard’s film brings together an assortment of characters who, at the beginning of the film have no association to one another and yet, through a single night at the El Royale, come to cross paths, and perhaps wished they never had.
Just ask Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), the manager of the El Royale, as he explains the unique history of the property which straddles the California – Nevada border in Lake Tahoe, right down to a marked out line depicting the border. Or ask Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who has more than a bottle of holy water up his sleeves. Then there’s Darlene Sweet, a backup singer who just happens to be on her way to a job in Reno and needed a room for the night. Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) really wants the honeymoon suite on the Nevada side of the hotel, yet he’s alone. And, he’s a vacuum cleaner salesman.
What gives with that?
Running a bit late to the party are Dakota Johnson as Emily Summerspring and her younger sister, Rose (Cailee Spaeny), and they bring a whole host of trouble with them in the form of the charismatic and pelvic-thrusting Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth).
Eventually, things go awry at the El Royale when everyone’s secret comes out. This is the genius and some of the challenge with Goddard’s story: it relies more on the characters, their individual situations and their fateful encounters to carry the story itself.
In the opening frame, we peer into a motel room and we know what actions are happening, but we don’t know why. Goddard wisely chooses to obscure the character so that when that character’s actions are brought back into the story in the third act, the impact is heightened. Goddard employs a time-shifting style of storytelling, which works for the most part because his characters are on point as is Lisa Lassek’s editing. There are some areas where the character motivations are put in front of us that slow the pace of the film down. I got the sense that Goddard was in love with his characters, and I don’t mind that because the way the story unfolds is really well done.
Goddard does borrow from himself with certain plot devices and they can get a bit long-in-the-tooth as well, but his homages to Tarantino’s story telling methods and to the master of suspense himself make up for said infractions. Michael Giacchino outdoes himself with this score, evoking the time the film is set in as well as that nourish-mystery storyline
Noir fans won’t be disappointed with “Bad Times at the El Royale,” but general audiences might avoid the film because it can seem a little too full on itself. I enjoyed the ride with all of these characters, and their situations and the fateful encounters each of them has made for a real pulpy story.
3.5 out of 4