Bad Times at the El Royale Parent Guide
Standout acting and a clean mid-century modern aesthetic don't compensate for an excessively violent story laden with profanity and substance use issues.
Parent Movie Review
When Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) arrives at the El Royale Hotel on the California/Nevada border she has no idea what awaits her. With the occasional help from Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), Darlene is exposed to an underworld of buried cash, armored car robberies, FBI surveillance, kidnappings, Charlie Manson-style cults, and murder. Lots of murder.
In nearly two and a half hours, we are shown the private lives and motivations of all the guests and staff at the El Royale, from a bank robber looking for his brother’s stash to the young man seeking absolution for prior deeds. When the FBI finds a problem, agents disable everyone’s cars, and the characters are forced to confront each other and their pasts.
And those pasts can be messy. There is a lot of violence in this film, both as the plot’s events unfold and as characters recall earlier events. Of particular concern to parents are scenes involving graphic shootings in which blood spurts towards the camera. A character’s flashback to an abusive incident in her childhood involves her being beaten by her father and shows blood on her face. There are so many scenes involving violence, blood, threats of physical harm, and a callous disregard for human life that parents should be leery of allowing teens to watch this film.
Not only is there a lot of violence, but the violence goes on for a long, long time. Two and a half hours is a lot for any film, but despite its other flaws this movie handles its lengthy run time surprisingly well. That’s not to say there isn’t any bloat - there is - but it’s usually sufficiently intense to keep viewers focused unless they have been turned off by the gore. The pacing is consistent, which helps keep the movie chugging along to its conclusion.
On the plus side, Bad Times at the El Royale has a pretty fantastic aesthetic: set in the late 1960s, the sets and costumes are beautiful depictions of mid-century modern styling. The simple clean lines and beautiful embellishments ensure that even if you find the plot slow or confusing you’ll have something interesting to look at. This is aided by some beautiful cinematography, with good framing, lingering takes that let the actors play scenes out more fully, and a no-frills approach that keeps the focus on the story.
What makes this movie work are the standout performances from Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo. Playing the heroes of the piece (more or less), these actors inject genuine emotion and personality into their characters. Jeff Bridges turns in his best work since his Oscar-nominated turn as the crotchety federal marshal Rooster Cogburn in 2010’s True Grit.
Unfortunately, apart from the sold acting, something about the film just feels…flat. It’s an intense story with some good character work - but something about the picture just doesn’t take off. The emotional weight of the characters’ stories is under-emphasized in the script, so any sense of serious character building comes from the heartfelt performances turned in by the cast. It’s not a bad time at the El Royale – but it’s not a good time either, especially for the many characters who don’t live to the end of the film.Directed by Drew Goddard. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, and Dakota Johnson. Running time: 141 minutes. Theatrical release October 12, 2018. Updated October 17, 2018
Bad Times at the El Royale
Rating & Content Info
Why is Bad Times at the El Royale rated R? Bad Times at the El Royale is rated R by the MPAA for strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity
Violence: Three different characters are graphically shot with a shotgun, typically with blood splattering towards camera. A young woman is kidnapped. A man is struck in the side of the head with a bottle after attempting to spike a woman’s drink (athough not for sexual purposes). Characters armed with guns or knives threaten other people on several occasions. Two people are stabbed, one off camera, and one graphically. Two young women are encouraged to fight for a man’s attention. A female character has a flashback to being beaten by her father when she was a child: blood is shown on her face. Scenes are shown depicting the Vietnam war, including people being shot and bodies on a battlefield. Several more characters are shot graphically with handguns and rifles. Characters talk about others they have hurt or killed.
Sexual Content: Sex is never shown but is discussed. Characters discuss politicians being filmed having sexual encounters in a hotel room. There is dialogue regarding a man sleeping naked with a wolf, which is “not sexual, but not not sexual either”.
Profanity: Approximately 30 uses of profanity and crude language, including 19 sexual expletives (written and spoken), two racial slurs and multiple scatological curses. There are also several terms of deity and many episodes of name-calling.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Some characters are shown drinking socially, but never to the point of intoxication. Characters use alcohol to cope with pain. There are infrequent portrayals of drug use by addicts and a young man is shown to be an intravenous drug user. Characters discuss drug use. There are multiple portrayals of smoking, including one where a physician smokes a cigarette.
Page last updated October 17, 2018
Bad Times at the El Royale Parents' Guide
Bad Times at the El Royale features several characters who are struggling with their pasts. Can we ever be free of our prior selves? Is it possible to receive absolution for things we have done? Do you think everyone deserves a second chance or are second chances only for some people? Do you believe that people can change? How do you decide if they are sincere? How do you assess personal change?
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