Bad Times at the El Royale – Not so bad at all

An atmospheric jaunt through the sixties


Joshua Roy, Staff Reporter

Bad Times at the El Royale is a delightful twisty tale of suspense. It is filled to the brim with stellar performances from its varied cast of characters to weave a slow yet riveting story.

The film opens with a minute-long segment of an unidentified man making himself at home in a hotel room set to an upbeat Motown tune. This uncut shot sets the tone of the entire movie; a long, slow, smooth ride through the sixties filled with intrigue.

Each act was split into sections based on the character in the spotlight. Short titles flashed between major scenes to keep everything organized. It gave tribute to Quentin Tarantino’s unique style of storytelling using flashbacks and current events unfolding all at once until the final act where everything is pulled together for the dramatic conclusion.

The plot itself can be difficult to flush out at times. With three different stories being told at once, it can be hard to keep track of everything. Some scenes tend to drag out, but not in a necessarily bad way.

There was a deeply moving scene where Cynthia Erivo’s character, a backup singer on her way to a gig in Reno, sang an entire song while pacing in her room. It gave you a deeper look into the character herself; you could tell the scene was showing a part of herself that was hidden from the rest of the world.

The violence that inevitably occurs is sparing, yet brutal. Scenes where death is present are not drawn out for suspense, in fact, they are finished quickly without much warning. There are no long, drawn-out fight scenes, but death is abundant throughout the 140-minute runtime.

Each character has their moment in the spotlight. There is the powerful performance by Jeff Bridges as the aging priest Father Daniel Flynn, who is going through the pain of slowly losing his memory. It was hard to watch this man struggle to remember his past. Many times I was close to tears while he lost himself in struggled breaths and glazed looks while trying to remember something important. 

Lewis Pullman had a beautiful performance as well. Pullman, who played Miles Miller, the young clerk of the hotel, had a beautiful transformation throughout the movie. For most of the film he seemed filled with cowardice, but during the emotional finale, his actions and recollections show a more mature, sadder side of the broken young man.    

Chris Hemsworth’s performance as a delusional cult leader was well done. It was a different role from what I’m used to from him, but he played it well. The way he swayed barefoot across the screen in an unbuttoned shirt and blue jeans made it all the more convincing. 

John Hamm and Dakota Johnson also had good performances but weren’t quite as memorable as their colleagues.

Bad times at the El Royale takes the setting of the sixties and runs with it. It drops you in a flushed out setting and then envelops you in its colorful cast of characters. Although the plot can get twisted up easily with so much going on, it is still an enjoyable romp through an era packed with great acting and well put together scenes.