“Bad Times At The El Royale” Is A Love Letter To Agatha Christie
By Scott Kurland
Film: Bad Times At The El Royale
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Cailee Spaeny, and Chris Hemsworth
Director: Drew Goddard
They don’t make classic whodunnit mysteries anymore. That tense, Agatha Christie- style writing went out with Hitchcock. An argument can be made for M. Night Shyamalan’s earlier films like “The Sixth Sense” or “Signs” but its a weak argument at best. Some have claimed that James Mangold came close with the early 2000’s hit “Identity,” and, to a certain extent, I would agree. However, none have successfully captured that Christie/Hitchcock tone like Drew Goddard and his latest film. That’s right…his week’s film is indeed Goddard’s sophomore film “Bad Times At The El Royale.” Let’s find out if it’s any good shall we?
“Bad Times At The El Royale” is a perplexing crime-ridden murder mystery set at the fictional El Royale hotel; a resort that lies on the border of California and Nevada. Its patrons, under the neglectful eye of the hotel’s manager (Lewis Pullman), have the option of staying on the Nevada side where they can gamble the night (and their money) away, or stay on the California side where they can…well, to put this delicately…commit infidelity. The film kicks into motion with the arrival of four strangers consisting of a priest (Jeff Bridges), a lounge singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm), and a beautiful drifter (Dakota Johnson). It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but one that quickly goes off the rails as no one is who they appear to be (with the exception of the lounge singer who is, indeed, a singer). As the night goes on, the guests and the manager let their masks of civility slip away. Everything culminates when a twisted, handsome, and shirtless man (Chris Hemsworth) enters the hotel to claim property taken from him by one of the guests. The events that unfold truly fit the title… “Bad Times at the El Royale.”
“Bad Times at the El Royale” is not a perfect film, but it’s a fantastic exercise in well-paced storytelling. I was trying to figure out what I enjoyed more, Goddard’s first film “Cabin in the Woods” or this film. At first I was leaning towards “Cabin.” Then something funny happened. I couldn’t stop thinking about this film. My love of the “Pulp Fiction” style storytelling lead me down a rabbit hole of brilliance. Goddard’s writing is some of the best I’ve seen for this genre. No one in this film comes out smelling of roses, however Goddard manages to make every character endearing in one way or another.
As for the performances, in my own opinion this might be Jeff Bridges best. Yes, Bridges is the Dude, Kevin Flynn from “Tr0n,” and Rooster Cogburn. Father Flynn is a tremendous role for Bridges and I don’t think anyone else could have played this character. This character has a secret that I don’t dare spoil. If I did, it would lessen Bridges’ performance should you choose to see the film.
Lewis Pullman and Cynthia Erivo really hold their own in this film. Erivo plays Darlene Sweet, whose pure nature is corrupted by those around her. Erivo showcases some incredible acting chops and a siren-like voice which brings everything and everyone in the hotel to a beautiful standstill. Goddard did his homework in hiring Erivo. Erivo is a Tony Award winning actress of the Broadway stage, but she has the charisma of a movie star. This leads me into Pullman. Lewis Pullman is the son of 90’s movie legend Bill Pullman, and the resemblance is eerie. You would think you were watching a young Bill Pullman on screen. But Lewis stands comfortably in his own spotlight and delivers a breakout performance. Lewis Pullman has the potential to become a huge movie star or an indie darling depending where he goes from here. Hopefully, he finds a balance that is somewhere in between.
“Bad Times at the El Royale” is one of 2018’s surprise gems. Filled with clever writing, fantastic production design, and one of the best ensemble casts in a film that isn’t trying to win awards. The only problem with the film is that no one is going to see the movie. Last week the film premired at the #7 spot in the box office, which means theaters won’t hold on to the film for long. So do yourself a favor and see the movie while you can.
REVIEW RATING: A-