Bad Times at the El Royale

The Guardian - G2 - - Reviews Film -

★★★☆☆

Dir

Drew God­dard Jeff Bridges, Cyn­thia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Dakota John­son

Star­ring Length

141 mins

Cert

15 Drew God­dard’s Bad Times at the El Royale is an en­sem­ble thriller with flour­ishes of vi­o­lence: pro­lix and the­atri­cal in the man­ner of Tarantino, com­plete with flash­backs, rewinds and POV-shifts. Like a lot of God­dard’s work – from Cabin in the Woods in the cinema to his scripts for Lost on TV – it’s an in­ge­nious puz­zle with phased char­ac­ter rev­e­la­tions, but this film prom­ises a bit more than it de­liv­ers.

The set­ting is the El Royale, a mo­tel strad­dling the Ne­vada/ Cal­i­for­nia bor­der in the late 60s, now low on clien­tele and rapidly be­com­ing a mu­seum of its own unin­spected kitsch. Four cus­tomers show up: el­derly priest Fa­ther Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), lounge singer Dar­lene Sweet (Cyn­thia Erivo), loud­mouth sales­man Sey­mour Sul­li­van (Jon Hamm) and moody hippy chick Emily Sum­mer­spring (Dakota John­son). This uneasy quar­tet, each nurs­ing a se­cret, is con­fronted with the mo­tel’s nerdy bell­hop, Miles Miller (Lewis Pull­man); he too has a se­cret, as does the es­tab­lish­ment.

It’s an in­trigu­ing-look­ing film, drenched in the para­noid style of 60s Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. The El Royale’s retro weird­ness gives it a haunted-house kind of fas­ci­na­tion. Yet for all its twisty un­ex­pect­ed­ness, it doesn’t de­liver a sat­is­fy­ing de­noue­ment.

The per­for­mances in Bad Times are in­ter­est­ing. How­ever, Bridges has a re­li­ably gran­ite pres­ence; merely by be­ing in a movie, he ap­pears to lower its cen­tre of grav­ity, mak­ing it stronger, surer. Erivo gives the film a cer­tain much-needed sweet­ness. PB

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