Ten years ago, a man (Nick Offerman) checked into a motel cum hotel named the El Royale, and took one of the rooms in the grounds of an establishment with the novelty of its setting half on the Californian side, and half on the Nevada side of the border. He entered the room, closed the door and drew his gun; satisfied there was nobody about, he switched on the radio and set to work, rolling back the carpet, pulling up the floorboards and placing a bag stuffed with money into the hole. Then he replaced the floorboards, put the carpet back the way he found it, and was going to settle down when there was a knock at the door. The man standing there was his assassin...
Back in the nineties, when Quentin Tarantino made it big, he was often accused of lifting bits and pieces of other movies and refashioning them into his own work, and this rubbed a number of people up the wrong way. That said, in doing so he remained very successful, by and large, and also introduced countless budding film buffs to the sort of cinema he had self-taught himself to appreciate, so he could point to the education he was offering his fans and justify his borrowings as far as they went. What was perhaps ironic was that Tarantino himself spawned a whole mini-industry of filmmakers who aped his style, crime pics with snappy, discursive dialogue, as their own.
You could have filled whole video shelves with Tarantino knock-offs in the nineties, and some stores did, but as his name continued to be dropped by cineastes, even those who did not like him, those copyists did not go away. This brought us to Drew Goddard, a writer and director who had enjoyed strong notices on television, which had led him to the movies, most notably his directorial debut Cabin in the Woods, a clever-clever post-modern slasher pic that proved a real love/hate experience for post-millennium audiences. His follow-up was not a sequel, for reasons you will be aware of had you caught that horror, but a Tarantino tribute, and that was equally divisive of the opinions on it.
Bad Times at the El Royale threatened to be very little other than a genre exercise, nothing wrong with that should you like this kind of thing, but it could very well ring hollow when your only frame of reference was earlier movies. It was also a textbook Jeff Bridges cult movie, you know the type, he had been starring in them his whole career, works that would flop at the box office since the world was apparently not ready for them, but gather interest until a full cult appreciation was in effect; these films were responsible for making Bridges one of the most reliable barometers of all that was in that style across American cinema from the seventies through to decades later. How he was able to pick such projects was something only he knew, but the pattern across his filmography was worth paying attention to.
If you liked productions that seemed as though they should be mainstream but for some reason solely caught on with the more rarefied audience of buffs, that was. Bridges was supported by a small-ish but vital ensemble who did their best to keep the plot surprises un-telegraphed, and you had to say that with nearly two-and-a-half hours to play with, that took some doing, though they did manage it with some aplomb. Bridges played a priest, stage star Cynthia Erivo played a singer, John Hamm a salesman, Dakota Johnson a hippy, and all four had arrived to stay in the cheaper motel section, a decade after the events of the introduction. Only one main character was without a guilty secret, and they would eventually win out, including the other folks who showed up who numbered Chris Hemsworth among them as a guru straight out of the 1969 setting, if you catch my drift. All the way through you were invited to question if they were architects of their own destiny, or whether fate was less malleable than that, and if this went on far too long, it was packed with a cast flexing its thespian muscles and worth indulging in for that alone, even with the jigsaw puzzle narrative. Music (with lots of oldies) by Michael Giacchino.