What made Robert Forster great is on full display in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Warning: This post contains spoilers for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
“You’re the guy.”
Late in El: Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, fresh off a windfall cash discovery, fugitive Jesse (Aaron Paul) believes he’s finally found the right vacuum repairman/disappearer extraordinaire in Ed (Robert Forster). What follows is one of the high-points in the well-received Breaking Bad followup, and it’s a sequence that I had been planning on discussing in my El Camino best moments post. And then, on the same day that the film was released on Netflix, Robert Forster, the Oscar-nominated star of Jackie Brown and memorable Breaking Bad guest-star, died at 78. Once I heard the news, I knew that this scene and Forster deserved to be more than just part of this El Camino story, it should be the story.
Like with many actors, Forster, who was 56 when Jackie Brown was released, saw a career resurgence after working with Quentin Tarantino — and for good reason. There’s plenty to love in the 1997 film, which has been called underrated for so long that we can now just say that everyone recognizes its greatness. But, in a movie also featuring Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Keaton, it’s Forster and Pam Grier that give Jackie Brown the heart and make it something special.
In the subsequent years, Forster would work nonstop, appearing in everything from the Oscar-nominated The Descendants to the Olympus Has Fallen franchise to the gone-too-soon Karen Sisco TV series to the return of Twin Peaks. Mixed in there was a pivotal one-episode spot on Breaking Bad. We knew of the character Ed Galbraith before we ever met him, with Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse both previously considering the use of his services, but we finally meet the man in the series’ penultimate episode “Granite State.” I distinctively remember watching this installment live in 2013 and being so delighted by the reveal of Forster in the role; he just seamlessly fit in this world and this character. It’s immediately clear why the very nondescript Ed is perfect for this job, and he relocates Walt to New Hampshire, then coming back a month later with supplies. A lonely Walt, strapped up to a chemotherapy kit, offers Ed $10,000 to keep him company for an hour, and soon asks him if he will make sure his barrel of money gets to his family when he dies. Replies Ed, “If I said yes, would you believe me?”
As enjoyable as Forster was in “Granite State,” he wouldn’t have been at the top of my list of Breaking Bad alums I thought would return for El Camino, and yet, he ends up being maybe the second most central to the plot (others like Cranston and Jonathan Banks serve more as fan service).
Upon hearing the news of Forster’s passing, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz best summed up what made the late actor great. “He could merely sigh and convey a complicated emotion,” wrote Mankiewicz on Twitter. “He could just stare and manage to leave you feeling this wave of emotion for his character.” And all of that was on full display in Ed’s memorable El Camino interaction with Jesse. As Jesse pleads and begs, dropping a bag full of money in front of him, Ed doesn’t break from his story that he’s not the guy, holding firm with that famous stare. Eventually, Ed relents, demanding payment for both this new request to disappear and the previous one that Jesse bailed on. With Jesse only $1800 short, Ed begins packing it all up, showing no sympathy for the desperate man. When Jesse refuses to leave, Ed dials 911 to report a disturbance at his shop, leading to a hilarious next few minutes, with Jesse not buying that Ed actually called the cops — until they quickly show up. “Wow, you love that response time,” perfectly quips Ed, who reminds Jesse to take his money as he starts to run.
After a wild west showdown elsewhere, Jesse would have the payment in full, allowing Ed to relocate “Mr. Driscoll” to his new life in Alaska, while also promising to mail a letter to poor Brock. Moments later, the film concludes with Jesse once again driving to freedom, but this time with a smile. In the end, El Camino serves as a fitting sendoff to Jesse, and, unknowingly, to Forster, the quiet presence who always couldn’t help but catch our eye.
To steal Ed’s words to Jesse: “Godspeed to you.”