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Released: 11th October
Seen: 12th October
Right on the borderline between California and Nevada, there stands a hotel that’s perfectly divided between the two states. That hotel is called the El Royale and it has one heck of a bad history, a history that’s been meticulously recorded on orders from the Management. One particularly dreary night, a bunch of strangers walk into the hotel. Each one hiding a secret that they are unwilling to share with anyone, but the night is young and there is no telling just what secrets will be revealed at the El Royale tonight.
From the moment the film opens on a simple shot of a mysterious man tearing up the floorboards of his room to hide a bag underneath them, only to be shot after he’s hidden his bounty, the audience’s curiosity is peaked. From there we go through our gaggle of guests one by one, picking apart their stories and tearing away the masks they have on to hide their true selves. Every single person in this film is nothing like they seem, they may appear to be a hippie at first and end up being something much darker. Everything in this film is about the idea of choices, only two choices are available to each character. A coin flip, the best of two fighters, red or black, simple choices that have major consequences. It’s genuinely fascinating to imagine just how different the events of this film could’ve been if someone had flipped a coin as heads instead of tails, and how the specific set of choices each character has made along the way has led them to the El Royale.
Speaking of characters, every single one in this film is intriguing and brilliantly performed, this cast has some of the finest chemistry one could imagine in an ensemble. Father Flynn (Played by Jeff Bridges) is a priest who has a terrible memory and seems like a harmless old man, though he is anything but that and he is played to perfection. Honestly, Bridges should be putting this one forward so he can go for his 8th Oscar nomination. He is able to make the character instantly lovable, reveal his darker side and make us know the pain he’s going through thanks to his horrific memory issues in ways that will break your heart. It’s genuinely my favourite performance in the film, and that’s saying a lot considering how many great performances there are.
Then there’s Darlene Sweet (Played by Cynthia Erivo), a backing vocalist who is struggling in the industry and has come to the El Royale just to sing in her room and practice. I know people who can get to Broadway or the West End have probably already heard Cynthia singing, she was part of multiple stage shows and this is one of her first big film roles… oh god, she is basically providing the soundtrack for this movie and it is remarkable to hear. Her character is easily the most likable of the bunch, though I will admit I don’t know quite what her character’s secret is (Since, again, everyone in this film has one) and I really wish I knew.
Emily Summerspring (Played by Dakota Johnson) is something of a rebel. She walks in looking like a hippie, not caring one bit about what anyone says to her and basically being the definition of cool…and then we see what she brought with her to the hotel (I’m not saying a damn thing) and she forces us to see her differently. It also FINALLY let me see Dakota Johnson differently because I’ve only ever seen her in 50 Shades, a series that I’ve made no secret about disliking, so to see her playing one of the most intriguing characters in this film was so gloriously refreshing. She walked on screen and you knew there was something about her that was going to shock everyone and, sure enough, there is.
Laramie Sullivan (Played by Jon Hamm) is a very enthusiastic appliance salesman who is going to give you his card and sell you a vacuum before you’ve finished the coffee you bought for a quarter. He seems like he’s going to be the very annoying loudmouthed asshole of the film, talking at several miles a minute and making everyone feel uneasy but, I repeat, there is more too him. It plays with Jon Hamm’s natural charm wonderfully, making his character engaging even at his most irritating and when he changes, you are even more intrigued about just what specifically brought him to the El Royale and what he’s there to find… I mean, other than two dozen microphones were hidden around his room.
Miles Miller (Played by Lewis Pullman) is the poor put-upon worker who not only has to handle front of house, but serve the beverages and make sure everyone writes in the log book and clean the rooms and go along the secret corridor to put a camera just behind the two-way mirrors of any room so he can record people who use the hotel to do illicit things that they might be blackmailed for. He’s jittery, awkward and clearly out of his element but (Say it with me now), he is not at all as he seems. He’s possibly the most innocent of the bunch, possibly tied with Darlene, but he has a lot of skeletons in his closet that clearly traumatise him to this day and he wants nothing more than absolution from the priest.
Rounding out the cast is Billy Lee (Played by Chris Hemsworth), a… OK, he doesn’t actually have a secret personality, he’s a cult leader who bought all his shirts during the great button shortage of 1969 when every button got stolen and sent to Living Island to be used as currency… I assume. It’s that or they just wanted an excuse to basically have Hemsworth walking around with his shirt either off or open for literally every frame he’s on screen. It could be gratuitous as hell but they use it deceptively well, using his charm and good looks to put you at ease just enough that when he lets loose it really throws you back. It’s a creatively creepy use of someone’s natural personality to make a character that’s captivating and terrifying and I’m all here for it.
These characters are some of the greatest creations of the year, each one is so well defined and brilliantly performed that you don’t know just who to root for, or how everything is going to go. Everyone has a mystery about them that we are handed bits and pieces of throughout. We go from room to room and follow each character one at a time, getting elements of the story from different perspectives. What might look like a cold-blooded murder from one person’s POV is a rational case of self-defense from another and that’s an interesting dynamic to play with, though I do wish that we got a little more time with some of the people. Even at two and a half hours long, it doesn’t feel like there’s any padding here. If anything, I feel like I could’ve used more time with each of these characters because they were so engaging. It’s not a bad thing to want more from a film, but to want more from a film that’s two and a half hours should tell you something about how engaged I was during this one.
The film is extremely well structured, not leaving anything of importance to chance. Every single detail you need to follow each mystery (Because there are SEVERAL) is given to you and you could catch several of the reveals before they happen, but they’ll still come with a pretty big impact. I called at least a few shock moments before they happened, but the explanations about why these people needed to keep these things secret managed to surprise me in just the right way. Every twist and turn in the story was able to surprise me and the climax… oh god, this movie has a final confrontation that is truly a grand display of the talents of its cast and writer.
This is absolutely the kind of film that one should see on a big screen, every frame is so well thought out and I found myself looking over every inch of the background because I was wondering who was going to sneak in at every moment. There are some long takes in this movie that made me genuinely gleeful, some editing moments that sold the tension perfectly. Every inch of the film really is just gorgeous to look at and while there are some contrived moments to create a good visual (Like a character walking into the shadows on camera only to slowly emerge from them for a dramatic moment), it’s still impossible to stop staring at just how gorgeous the film is.
I highly recommend this one. It’s engaging, it’s clever, the visuals are stunning and the performances are top notch. My only real suggestion is that you go in as blind as you can. I’ve done my best not to spoil anything major but trust me on this one, this is a film that you need to find a way to go see in the cinema while it’s out. It’s one of the best of the year and one that’s worth the time investment. Just maybe don’t see it in a cinema that borders the state line between California and Nevada, you never know what’ll happen along that border line.
Note: Yes, I changed my graphics. I lost the original photoshop file when an external hard drive decided to stop working so I took the opportunity to just make new ones that looked a little fancier. Let me know if you like this review or if you go see this movie, like, comment, follow, all that good stuff.