BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
PG-13, 140 mins.
2018, PG-13, 140 mins.
Jeff Bridges as Father Daniel Flynn / Cynthia Erivo as Darlene Sweet / Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee / Dakota Johnson as Emily Summerspring / Jon Hamm as Laramie Seymour Sullivan / Cailee Spaeny as Ruth SummerspringWritten and directed by Drew Goddard
It's amazing to consider that nearly twenty five years after its release that generation after generation of filmmaker are repeatedly still trying to recapture Quentin Tarantino's PULP FICTION lighting in a bottle style.
have endeavored - with intermittent levels of success over the years - to marry
Tarantino's brand of ultra violence, swiftly assured and punchy dialogue
exchanges, lurid crime elements, and likeably amoral crooks, and BAD TIMES
AT THE EL ROYALE is certainly no exception.
It's from writer/director Drew Goddard, a talented director in his
own right (THE CABIN IN THE WOODS)
as well as a respected and clever screenwriter (THE
MARTIAN and CLOVERFIELD).
His newest film - his first in six years - has Tarantino's DNA all
over it, which may have some turning away considering that the imitation genre has been sucked relatively dry.
Yet, Goddard makes his film uniquely his own in the process and it contains a terrific and intriguing setup, a wonderful ensemble cast,
and gorgeous period production values.
It woefully runs out of steam in its later stages, but the film
overall is an undeniable attention grabber.
basic plot/premise is deceptively simple, yet contains multiple twists
and turns and traverses back and forth within its own timeline to the
point of making some viewers feel like they require a roadmap to make
sense of it all.
That's more of a compliment than criticism, seeing as it allows for
a strong sense of forward momentum and a nagging uncertainty of what's to
And the film's opening scene is a real humdinger.
Done in one beautifully realized long take, we see a trenchcoated
and apparently bloodied and beaten man entering a motel room carrying
He then moves all of the room's furniture from one side to the
other and proceeds to tear up the floor's carpets He opens up the
remaining wooden blanks underneath, where he deposits the bags.
He then puts the room completely back together again.
Thinking the coast is clear, he is greeted by another man coming to
the door, who whips out a shotgun and blasts him dead.
The title card then reveals a "Ten Years Later"
flashforward in time.
All in all, the opening of BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is
impressively mounted and easily got me hooked.
inferred - via some nifty TV news reports in the background of some scenes
- that the setting is Nixon era America in the early 70s as we revisit the
same hotel from the introductory sequence, the El Royale, which is
revealed to by built and residing precisely on the border between Nevada
Once an extremely popular destination for rich and famous
celebrities, the hotel has fallen on hard business times and is in
desperate need of renovations. The only employee apparently still working
there is Mile Miller (Lewis Pullman), who's given a reprieve from his
chronic boredom and loneliness with the appearance of four strangers at
the same time: Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges); singer Darlene (Cynthia Erivo);
traveling salesmen Seymour (Jon Hamm); and the tough talking hippie-esque
Emily (Dakota Johnson).
All of these people come from diverse backgrounds, but they all
share the commonality of wanting to hopefully have a night of peace and
quiet in their respective rooms overnight.
soon becomes clear that most of these people are definitely not what they
appear to be.
Seymour most certainly has more motive to be at the hotel outside
of it serving as a mere pit stop on his sales trip, whereas Flynn also is
shown to perhaps not be an honorable man of the cloth.
Worse yet is when Emily drags in a bound and gagged women (Cailee
Sapeny) into her room in what superficially looks like a kidnapping.
Then there's the discovery of a hidden hallway within the hotel
that allows people access to two way mirrors to spy on guests (with one
featuring a large camera in front of it).
As one dark and twisted revelation begins to mount on top of each
other, the guests find themselves oddly bonding together when a
manipulative cult leader, Billy Lee (the perpetually shirtless Chris
Hemsworth) shows up to violently complicate matters even more, and with
all of what remains of the hotel visitor's lives hanging in the balance.
TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is a sumptuously made film through and through,
thanks to Goddard and company's keen eye for set and production design,
art direction, 70s era clothing styles, and, in particular, specific
attention paid to making the hotel feel like a secondary character all on
The film also has a bright, yet ominous color palette, thanks to
cinematographer Seamus McGarvey's exquisite shot compositions.
On a pure technical level (in terms of whisking us immediately back
the past), Goddard's film is an outstanding achievement.
The screenplay's juicy and darkly compelling detours throughout
also displays, yes, a Tarantino-like infusion of black humor and shocking
bloodshed that also revels in throwing multiple unexpected curveball at
audiences over and over again.
The core premise of a group of mysterious and duplicitous minded
strangers coming together during one fateful night at a run down hotel,
only then to have their lives turned upside down is the stuff of perverse
crime pulp novels, and Goddard, for the most part, seems to be
successfully aiming for and harnessing such an anarchist tone.
is also a solid actors director as well and generates some wonderful
turns from his exemplary cast.
Jon Hamm is no stranger to playing cool cats of the past (see MAD
MEN) and here he proves yet again why he's arguably one of the best
leading men in Hollywood that Hollywood doesn't utilize more to his
Jeff Bridges seems to he having a blast slowly revealing layer upon
layer of secrets to his priest that just may not be as devout to God as he
would otherwise appear.
Hemsworth - despite appearing really late in the proceedings -
delivers an understated, yet campy turn as his insane cult leader that uses
the hotel's casino tables as an interrogation tool in one of the film's
The real standout in the film is British stage star Cynthia Erivo (previously
a Tony winner) and Goddard never wastes any opportunity to have
this vocal powerhouse belt out versions of iconic 60s tunes whenever
Beyond her tremendous singing talents, Erivo also brings a
thankless level of gritty charisma and inner strength to her character
despite the madness that surrounds her.
I couldn't help but think all while watching BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
that there was a truly great Tarantino knock-off here with some head scratching creative choices that nearly
Like, for example, the film's preposterously bloated and self
indulgent running time of 141 minutes, which it never once feels like it
requires, nor earns.
The initial storytelling urgency and nail biting tension that
Goddard engineers in the opening sections of the film are somewhat undone
by his elephantine pacing later, during which time the screenplay tries to
shake things up, introduce new unrelated elements, and attempt - albeit
unsuccessfully - to throw viewers off and keep them in a state of
Perhaps the largest issue related to this is that it takes for...bloody...ever
for BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE to build towards a
satisfying third act; Goddard never seems to known how to just pull all of
these troubled souls together and simply end his film.
And by the time the plot reaches it brutally protracted finale the
manner Goddard brings everything to some semblance of closure is
distractingly a letdown.
I wished that this film had a better payoff. I wished that it was about twenty minutes shorter. And I also wished that it gave these shadowy individuals more to do than have obligatory standoffs that should have been inspired and intense instead of inspiring me to check my watch with too much frequency. Yet, I'm going to reluctantly give BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE a passing grade, seeing as Goddard's sense of evocative style, the film's look and tone, as well as its deeply committed and diverse cast makes it worthy of theatrical consumption. And Goddard seems to be relishing at tapping into this genre, even though he lacks some editorial discipline at times. His film is not of the upper "Royale with cheese" echelon of memorable PULP FICTION inspired crime noirs, but it nevertheless remains "a tasty burger" in just the right dosages.