D: Edgar Wright / 113m
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Jon Bernthal, CJ Jones, Flea, Lanny Joon, Sky Ferreira, Paul Williams
There are very few times when directors manage to achieve fully the vision they have for their movies. Some have pet projects that they wait years to bring to the big screen, but when they do, they’re not always successful. Some movies have audiences wondering what on earth the director was thinking of, some can be filed under glorious failures, while others achieve the distinction of gaining a cult following. None of these apply to Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, a movie that zooms onto our screens like a gust of fresh air designed to blow away all the horrendously bloated blockbuster movies that have been foisted on us so far this year.
Wright’s ode to fast cars, old-fashioned meet-cute romance and killer tunes is quite simply, a blast. If this is your kind of movie then you are going to have an amazing time. And if this isn’t your kind of movie… well, that’s a shame, as you’re missing an absolute treat. Wright has made a movie that is energetic, soulful, visually arresting, and chock full of great performances, from Spacey’s criminal mastermind to Foxx’s psycho with extra attitude. The story is a simple one: Baby (Elgort) owes Doc (Spacey) for trying to steal his car when Baby was younger. By being the driver on bank robberies that Doc has set up, Baby’s debt diminishes with each job. With one last job to go before the debt is fully paid, Baby meets waitress Debora (James), and suddenly he has a reason to move on with his life.
Baby takes a job as a pizza delivery driver (no one’s going to get a free pizza after thirty minutes if he’s delivering), and he begins to make plans for himself and Debora to leave Atlanta and hit the road, travelling to wherever it takes them. But Doc appears with another job, one that could see Baby earning a lot more money than before; he’s also aware of Baby’s relationship with Debora and makes it clear that he’s not giving Baby a choice in taking part or not. Doc has assembled Bats (Foxx), Buddy (Hamm) and his wife Darling (González) to carry out the robbery, with Baby as the driver. But in prepping the job, Baby begins to have second thoughts about going through with it. He tries to get away and hit the road with Debora, but he’s outwitted by Buddy and Bats, leaving him with only one choice: take part in the robbery or see Debora come to harm. And then the robbery goes horribly wrong…
From the start, Wright displays a flair and a confidence that elevates the material to greater heights than anyone could have expected. Expanding on an idea he had back in 1994 – and which he first explored in the 2003 video for Mint Royale’s Blue Song – Wright has written, constructed, and brought to life a movie that celebrates love, and a passion for music that is a form of love in itself. Baby suffers from tinnitus, a “hum in the drum”, and he uses music to drown it out. This gives Wright the chance to flood the soundtrack with an array of carefully and aptly chosen songs that punctuate and inform the mood at any given time. Some choices might seem counter-intuitive (Focus’s Hocus Pocus for a foot chase? The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat for a robbery getaway?) but they all work, adding to the clever visual and aural stylings that Wright employs throughout.
But while the soundtrack is the key to much of what is going on emotionally in the movie, it’s the look of it that clinches our involvement. Wright is supremely confident when it comes to placing and moving the camera, and some of the angles and shots that he conjures up are nothing short of breathtaking. An early scene where Baby waits outside a bank and is listening to Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion offers the viewer a bravura expression of Baby’s love for music and the way it can motivate and uplift him. This is only Elgort’s eighth movie, but his performance is a far cry from his usual pouty roles in a variety of YA movies. The pout is still here but it’s reined in for the most part, and seeing `Baby “rock out” to various songs in the apartment he shares with his deaf foster father (Jones) shows an ease and a loosening of attitude that is a good sign for any future roles.
But Baby Driver isn’t just a visually arresting movie with a terrific soundtrack, it’s also a tender romance and a cracking thriller. The relationship between Baby and Debora could have been a little too saccharine in comparison to the more muscular action elements (of which there are plenty), but Wright is wise to this and keeps it all light and dreamy, a forever fairy tale approach that works well against the macho posturings of the crews Doc assembles. James and Elgort have an easy-going chemistry, and their scenes together are funny and sweet and engaging. On the other side of the fence, Foxx is brusque and confrontational as psycho-without-an-off-switch Bats, Bernthal is another crew member who picks on Baby to no avail, while Hamm goes from amiable robber to avenging killer once the final robbery goes wrong. These are all good performances but they’re topped by Spacey’s sinister yet urbane Doc, a character you actually want to see more of, but who Wright wisely uses sparingly.
The action scenes are all very well choreographed, with the first car chase at the beginning of the movie (and which features that manoeuvre from the trailer) proving to be one of the best action sequences you’re likely to see all year. Wright shows a tremendous sense of space and distance in these sequences, and the camerawork by DoP Bill Pope is magnificent, propelling the viewer along with Baby et al, and providing enough breathtaking moments for two movies. And even when Wright slows things down in order to advance the plot, there’s still a sense of energy waiting to be released, of power straining at the gate to be let loose. And with the next squeal of tyres there it is, and off we go again.
This isn’t a movie though where the characters are secondary to the action, or play second fiddle to a script that doesn’t make sense. It’s a fairly simple, straightforward movie that looks amazing but still manages to retain a heart and a soul thanks to its romantic elements, and to the way in which the characters interact with each other. There are moments of humour, too – how could there not be in a movie by Edgar Wright – and they fit right in with all the other elements, unforced, and keeping the tone from becoming too serious. Wright balances all these elements to perfection, and there aren’t any scenes that either feel extraneous or tonally at odds with the rest of the movie. All in all, a tremendous achievement, and one that at long last proves that mainstream moviemaking doesn’t have to be loud, brash, overly reliant on CGI, and devoid of a coherent story and plot. Hollywood – take notice.
Rating: 9/10 – the first bona fide all-round success of 2017, Baby Driver is a triumph of style, visuals, acting, directing, writing – hell, everything, and a movie to be savoured just as much for the things it doesn’t do as the things it does; and of course it has possibly the coolest soundtrack of the year as well, a feast for the ears that contains so many gems that you won’t be able to decide which one to hum as you leave the cinema.