Bad Times at the El Royale
A Neo-Noir Thriller that Hits All the Right Notes
Genre: Neo-Noir, Thriller
Why We Watched: I had been wanting to watch this for ages! But it was one of those that I kinda just missed in theaters, you know? Finally I got my chance to watchit on the plane back from my Ireland trip a few weeks ago.
You Might Also Like: It's worth paying the $5.99 to watch El Royale this weekend (invite friends over to join!), but if you're more patient than I am, you can wait for it to run on HBO starting June 1. In the meantime, why not check out another Royale—Casino Royale, the best James Bond movie there is, imho. Or, to shake off the super creepy vibes Chris Hemsworth gives off in El Royale, maybe peep him in Thor: Ragnorak on Netflix again this weekend.
Bad Times at the El Royale has something—or someone—for everyone. This neo-noir (heavy on the neo, heavy on the noir), set in 1969 has a super lush and stylized mise-en-scène which is a feast for the eyes. Every frame seems worthy of a screen grab, and the story is wild every step of the way.
The hotel, its gimmick that it straddles the California/Nevada line, has fallen on hard times, and only glimmers of its former glory remain. Where celebrities, politicians, and high-rollers once gathered, the Royale is now lucky to host anybody at all. The small handful of guests who roll in one fateful night don't choose the place for its charm, but for its cheapness—and the secrets it hides behind mirrors and under floorboards. Unfortunately, no one gets a good night's sleep. And before the night is over, more than one guest's life changes (or ends) forever.
Every element of El Royale feels indulgent to me, from the writing, to the setting, to the casting, to the plot. But it's also got some teeth to it. Manohla Dargis at The New York Times said "Words are never casually exchanged at the Royale here but are instead deployed like weapons." That's because everybody's got something at stake in the film, and nobody trusts anybody. Finding out the characters secrets,' and watching what they do with them, is an un-guilty pleasure.
A word about the bang-up cast, which really is the best bit of the whole thing: You've got Jeff Bridges, being all Jeff Bridges, and of course he's excellent (when is he not?) as fake priest "Father" Daniel Flynn. Jon Hamm (a traveling not-salesman) and Dakota Johnson (a hippie on the run) offer up great performances too, but it's Cynthia Erivo and Chris Hemsworth who steal the show. Both are both utterly captivating: one as a wise and weary singer (a freakin' good one), and the other as a world-class creep. Erivo's soulful singing makes up a chunk of the soundtrack, and the plot, too, but it's her face that does all the work: her barely controlled irritation and rage threaten to burst from her like a dam breaking, until, later, when things start to heat up, they fade to biting condescension and steely calm. WOW, she is good in El Royale! And Hemsworth at this point surprises no one with his range. Not just a pretty face, he's proven himself more than adept at humor, heroism—and now pure evil.
This was a perfect airplane movie, but I'd wager it makes an even better cozy-up-on-the-couch-with-popcorn kind of movie.
Happy Streaming! Grace