Bad Times at the El Royale
Runtime 140 minutes
This is as tense a movie as you will ever sit through. In 1968 seven people, Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), soul singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), traveling salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), hippie Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), her sister Rose (Cailee Spaeny), manager Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) and Charlie Manson-like Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) meet at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. They don’t know each other. They all have secrets and all come to a head.
This movie is chock full of surprises. Written and directed by Drew Goddard, I cringed when I heard the runtime. But this film never drags.
Even the actors were blown away by the script, Bridges calling it “awesome.” Hemsworth said, it “is one of the best things I’ve ever read. It is fresh, unique, full of drama and sinister humor, complex and layered. The chaos just builds and builds and becomes this house of cards that all goes very pear-shaped. It’s wildly unpredictable and intense.”
Goddard apparently feels about today’s movies as do I. Listen to what he says, “I wrote it for myself. I’d been working on a lot of big-budget films, things that had a lot of pre-vis and complicated visual effects, and I was complaining to my wife one night. I said, ‘I’m so tired of this. My next movie is just going to be a bunch of actors in a room talking.’ At first I was joking, but limitations can be good for a writer. So I challenged myself to create a construct where you have several people in a confined space. How do you make that interesting? How do you turn the story even though most of it takes place in the same location? How do you change that location over the course of one night? All these questions make it hard but really fun to write. And also I just love hotels. I love how they are at this place where people come together for a very brief period of time and have these encounters. I wanted to explore this idea that one night in one hotel can change everyone’s life.”
Shades of All About Eve (1950) and, on a lesser scale, Key Largo (1948); that’s what I’ve been saying for years now!
It would ruin the movie to tell anything about the plot. Better to go to the theater and just go along with it. Everything about it, the acting, directing, writing, cinematography, you name it, they are all terrific. One thing’s for sure, you ain’t gonna fall asleep!
Tony Medley is an MPAA-accredited film critic. See more reviews at TonyMedley.com.