Review /’Bad Times at the El Royale’ (MA) **** and a half

Jeff Bridges as Father Flynn in “Bad Times at the El Royale”.

THIS is high-grade movie craftsmanship telling a confronting, violent story evoking the Hollywood era when memories of the great depression, prohibition and World War II were active in America’s mind.

This brainchild of producer/writer/director Drew Goddard mingles robbery and murder in a package taking 141 minutes to deliver contents going beyond what’s there on the screen. Within the parameters of its genre, it’s credible, complex, clever in its to-ing and fro-ing among places and times, and morally defensible (although for most of its length it deals with characters and situations not what they seem).

Jeff Bridges heads a relatively small principal cast. After parking a beautiful example of the Studebaker that changed car design forever by abandoning the running boards on which pursuing cops had stood shooting at fleeing crooks in so many crime movies, Father Flynn takes a room in the El Royale, a quiet, rundown motel where the boundary between California and Arizona runs through the lobby.

Darlene (Cynthia Erivo), an attractive black woman, needs undisturbed quiet to practise the numbers she plans to audition for a gig in California. Father Flynn offers to help carry her chattels to the lobby where Miles (Lewis Pullman), who appears to be the hotel’s only employee, invites her to decide in which state she would like to sleep.

Next arrival is Emily (Dakota Johnson) who signs the register using a word a family newspaper won’t print followed by “off”.  After dark, in the rain, Emily carries in a young woman bound and gagged and ties her in a chair.

Fundamentalist preacher Billy (Chris Hemsworth) is grooming teenager Ruth a.k.a. Boots (Cailee Spaeny) whose relationship with Emily is yet to be disclosed. Billy is a sadist whose time in the story is spattered with the blood of almost all the other principal characters.

These people have secrets that emerge as the night goes on. The hotel also has a secret, one-way mirrors for paying voyeurs to watch illicit couples cavorting erotically in short-rent rooms.

“Bad Night at the El Royale” offers satisfying rewards for people willing not to be mollycoddled by having been exposed to other films offering modern conventions of its genre. I enjoyed its surprises, production values, writing of both dialogue and situations and delivery of sheer entertainment. So can you.

At all cinemas


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