Bad Times at the El Royale
Director: Drew Goddard.
Writer/producer-come-director Drew Goddard writes and directs a vicious, dark yet vibrant neo-noir mystery thriller. Known for writing and directing his big picture debut, The Cabin in the Woods; writing the screenplays to World War Z, The Martian, Cloverfield and being the writer and creator of the first two series of the successful Dare Devil TV show; we should be expecting something rather exciting with the trailer suggesting something similar to Agatha Christie’s recent Murder on the Orient Express mixed with some Tarantino’esque style, reminding me of The Hateful Eight and especially Four Rooms. Even the poster looks similar to Branagh's Orient Express.
Set in the end of 1960’s, seven strangers encounter one another at the El Royale, the once popular hotel that straddles the state line of Nevada and California, supposedly based on Frank Sinatra’s Cal Neva Resort and Casino which overlooks the north-side of Lake Tahoe. A novelty hotel that had the visible state line run down the middle dividing the hotel into two. Each of the characters bring their own strong, unique and clashing personalities. Among them being the sharp-tongued travelling salesman, a forgetful catholic priest, an incredibly talented soul singer and an obnoxious rough road girl just for starters, all of whom are greeted by the hotel’s sole employee, the nervous and uneasy concierge; and all of whom not being exactly who they might appear to be, each harbouring their own secrets and superficial reasons for booking in at the El Royale.
Starting from check-in, the story entwines each of the character’s chapters switching their narratives to give the audience some insight into each of their backgrounds, though it’s structured with such an intricate balance, which leads deeper into the intriguing mystery and at points, are shocked or left in suspense with who’s and whys. This element of the characters not being who they appear to be is highly enjoyable as the story keeps you guessing and at times, becoming judgemental for a good portion of their screen time.
The cinematography is glorious, from start to finish with some classic yet creative shots and sequences. There’s moments where the film keeps in time with the music which instantly reminded me of Baby Driver. Goddard’s style gives us a peek at the different perspectives from each character’s point of view, filling in certain gaps as the stories unfold and meld together; and does so without losing pace or becoming confusing. The script, as expected, is sharp but not over exuberant so it reflects the different personalities perfectly. It’s not short with a runtime of 141 minutes but it’s certainly captivating enough with the amount of swaying intrigue and shocking moments that literally smack you in the face.
Having a strong cast is a great plus but doesn’t always guarantee success for films, sometimes working against it, but the casting here is brilliant with Bridges and Hamm being nothing less than their usual best, Hemsworth being blatant eye candy and Spaeny being totally unrecognisable from her previous sighting as the young heroine in Pacific Rim: Uprising. But it’s equally Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman that both give outstanding performances!
Having seen Pullman in the recent Battle of the Sexes and The Strangers: Prey at Night this really shows off his acting talents. And I shamefully admit, until this, I’ve not seen Erivo’s name before but reading that she won the Tony award for Best Leading Actress for her role in “The Color Purple” in 2016 as a result, I understand why she both, won the award and got the part here. Noticing she’s also in the coming-soon Widows now raises my excitement level for that film. It’s her live singing that’s just astounding! Rivalling it’s fellow released film A Star Is Born, and I seriously mean that. Sadly her singing talents aren’t on either soundtrack nor the score and I can still hear her fabulous rendition of The Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine” going around in my head and this isn’t the only Motown classic she superbly covers. I would happily go watch this film again just for her vocals.
The 60’s soul and rock themed soundtrack suits the film perfectly with tracks from the Four Tops, Frankie Valli, Edwin Starr and The Mamas & The Papas. But the soundtrack is in contrast to Michael Giacchino’s infused compositions which accompany it’s corresponding scenes flawlessly. However, it’s not a score I wholly enjoy listening to in isolation and can only fully appreciate it’s magic when with the film apart from the somber, almost western themed “The Suite at the El Royale” and “Absolution Presents Itself”.
The production as a whole is incredibly clean with perfect sets, costume design, hair and makeup. Even the little details in the props give the film an refreshing uniqueness about it, like the room keys, the cars and even the masks. It’s all very much 1969 but the film feels fresh and crisp. The costume designs for each character is so well fitted too; not that Hemsworth has to wear much. But everyone stands out in their own flamboyant way.
Though the story might falter slightly towards the end, there’s enough unpredictability and action to keep viewers highly captivated throughout, myself not even realising the lateness the film finished. It really isn’t a place for a priest but I would happily rate this a perfect getaway on tripadvisor. Off the back of this, I’m keen to see what Goddard does with X-Force.
Running Time: 9
The Cast: 9
Job Description: 9
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for both Erivo's and Pullman's performances.