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bad times at the el royale

DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard (the cabin in the woods)
STARRING: chris hemsworth, jon hamm, jeff bridges, and dakota johnson 

REVIEWER: lyall carter


Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at a run-down hotel in Lake Tahoe in 1960s California. Over the course of a fateful night, they all get one last shot at redemption before everything goes wrong.

Theres not really a lot I can tell you about Bad Times at the El Royale because that would just ruin a very, very good surprise. 

What I can tell you is the El Royale, a hotel that lies half way between Nevada and California (you can chose what state you want to stay in), is a place where the dastardly and the desperate go to stay. Seven strangers converge on the El Royale and in the course of one night their lives, with all their sins and secrets, will violently collide. 

I hate it when people ruin films for me so, as always, this will be a spoiler free review. Also do yourself a favour: hear and see as little as you can of Bad Times at the El Royale before you see it because you don't want to ruin it for yourself. 

Its the kind of tale that is like a tightly wound up spring: it unfurls itself slowly and then all at once with a violence that will take you by surprise. I can't remember the last time I was in a cinema where there were so many vocal gasps of disbelief than in Bad Times at the El Royale. Its masterful, suspenseful noir story telling that makes for a great night out. 

Production designer Martin Whist's aesthetically beautifully crafted 10,000-square-foot El Royale set, Seamus McGarvey's moody and at times creepy cinematography, and the retro musical hits almost adding an eighth voice and character to the story all help to immerse us into the world of the El Royale. 

The all star cast are just that: an all star, brilliant cast. Cynthia Erivo who plays Darlene the singer and possibly the most 'normal' (compared to the others) character, really excels in anchoring the other characters by being the grounded one. She sings exquisitely with power and passion that can hush a room as they listen spellbound but you absolutely believe that she could also shoot you in the face if it were necessary. 

Lewis Pullman also pulls off a terrific performance beautifully holding the tension between burdened brokenness and deep dark secrets which isn't a particularly easy thing to do. 

But the MVP of this all star cast has to be the one and only Jeff Bridges. This guy is an acting colossus having that kind of rare magnetism that whenever he is on the screen you can't help but be completely and utterly enthralled.  There are two scenes in particular, one at the bar with Darlene and one at the very end of the film with Miles that are just mind blowingly brilliant. A real master of the craft at work. 

Money, murder, and mayhem never looked so good. An all star cast and a tightly wound noir tale that slowly unfurls with twists and violence aplenty. 


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