Written and directed by Drew Goddard, and starring Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman, and several others, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is the type of movie Hollywood doesn’t make very often anymore. A noir-ish, ensemble, character driven piece of storytelling. Nothing — and no one — is as it seems in this interesting take of strangers happening to meet at the wrong place at the wrong time as their lives and stories collide.
The El Royale of the title is a motel, situated on the border between California and Nevada. Guests are asked in which of the two states they would prefer to spend the night, as the motel’s buildings are bisected by the border. Our story takes place in the late 1960s (the interweb tells me it is meant to be 1969 based on a television press conference by President Nixon shown in the film), and the motel is well past its heyday. One fateful day several strangers make their way to the motel, each with a secret, a past, and a questionable future. A priest (Bridges), a singer (Erivo), a salesman (Hamm), and a young woman (Johnson) each want a room from the odd desk clerk (Pullman). Clearly more guests than he’s seen in some time, they are all checked in and well on their way to a night to remember.
While the trailer of the film reveals some of the shocks, to reveal much more would be to reveal too much.
This is a film that could potentially fit into several genres: drama, crime, noir. The studio has opted to label it a thriller. All of these apply. And it is a great ride while it lasts. The acting across the board is superb. It is well worth the watch. As I said, I don’t want to reveal too much here, but I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. You might too.