UK Release Date: 28th June 2017
Runtime: 113 minutes
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, CJ Jones
Synopsis: In debt to a ruthless crime boss, a young man is forced to repeatedly get behind the wheel as a getaway driver in a series of heists, accompanied by iPods full of music to drown out his tinnitus.
The nerdier corners of the internet have spent the last few years lamenting what could have been if Edgar Wright had been able to follow through with his vision for Marvel’s Ant-Man. Meanwhile, though, Wright himself has been busy bringing one of his other pet projects to life. That project – a euphoric action movie with music coded into every second of its DNA – is skidding into cinemas now as Baby Driver. It’s a white-kunckle crime thriller with dashes of comedy and where the whiff of romance in the air comes combined with the stench of motor oil and burnt rubber.
Getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) is in debt to crime lord Doc (Kevin Spacey), and is therefore forced to take part in robberies with his various crews. Due to tinnitus as a result of a childhood car accident, he spends much of his life with earphones playing an endless selection of tracks loud enough to drown out the “hum in the drum”. As his debt comes close to clearing, Baby meets idealistic waitress Debora (Lily James) and plans to get out of the criminal world. He is, however, drawn back for one last job alongside crazed criminal Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Machiavellian couple Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González).
Baby Driver is an exhilarating and thrilling film, directed with precision in the perfect manifestation of Wright’s hyper-kinetic directorial style. An early scene, in which Elgort bops along to blues track ‘Bellbottoms’ in a stationary car while waiting for his accomplices, serves as a nice nod to Wright’s 2003 music video for Mint Royale’s ‘Blue Song’, which was something of a dry run for this film’s central conceit. We next see Elgort dancing down the street to the ‘Harlem Shuffle’, with lyrics appearing on walls, pavements and lampposts. He’s just buying coffee, but Wright is the master of making magic from mundanity. The scene is a musical cousin of Simon Pegg‘s equally choreographed corner shop walk in Wright’s Shaun of the Dead.
It’s these scenes that illustrate the central charm of Baby Driver. When he’s not behind the wheel, Baby often seems a little awkward in his reality, crippled by grief, and there’s a sense that he is living in a heavily soundtracked and choreographed fantasy that doesn’t quite match up to his real existence. His relationship with Lily James’s charming and believable waitress is another escape, with Baby retreating into an Elvis-like, mysterious persona that suits his double life as a “devil behind the wheel”. It’s significant that, with her, Baby feels as if he can remove his headphones – perhaps because James represents a different fantasy into which he can conceal his true self.
The music of Baby Driver is entirely inseparable from its action. Wright engineers every set piece to within an inch of its life, ensuring every tyre squeal, gunshot and gear change matches the track into which Baby has chosen to escape in the scene. The eclectic soundtrack, which runs the gammut from Beck and T-Rex to The Commodores and Barry White, is written through the film’s action like a stick of ‘Brighton Rock’. Every chase is exhilarating in the extreme and peppered with invention. One moment, in which Baby turns a trio of red cars into a game of freeway find the lady, is inspired and every handbrake turn feels bracingly real.
Less real but every bit as entertaining is the motley crew of criminals that make up the film’s ensemble, from Jamie Foxx dialling up the insanity as the heavily tattooed Bats to Kevin Spacey playing it quiet and malevolent as organ grinder Doc. Spacey even gets to deliver the film’s best joke, as the pay-off to a wonderful Pixar running gag. Perhaps the most intriguing of these characters is Jon Hamm’s Buddy, who is hinted at having a past that’s more suit than balaclava, but every bit as criminal. Hamm gets the more interesting relationship with Baby as well, as the pair bond over Queen, only to be torn apart when bullets begin to fly.
But none of the film’s petrolhead poetry would hold together without Ansel Elgort, who is just the right combination of goofy and gritty to hold together Baby Driver‘s competing genres and tones. Whether he’s hiding away in his room cutting together chat snippets into electro tracks, delivering chat-up lines like a silver-tongued crooner or being caught in the headlights like a scared bunny rabbit, Elgort is never anything other than believable. Even as the world around him veers wildly into the fantasy of a high-octane Walter Hill actioner, Elgort never loses his grip on what makes Baby tick.
There’s seldom a silver lining to missing out on a big career opportunity but, if Wright’s Ant-Man departure keeps him out of the franchise world, that’s almost certainly a good thing. Baby Driver is that most unique of movies – a true example of modern auteurism. It’s an elegantly crafted patchwork of controlled chaos, in which every shot counts and every camera movement is there to tell the story. Every moment is fiercely original and the film lodges itself within your heart as effectively as its earworm soundtrack thrusts its way into your brain. The final few moments are perhaps a touch too convenient but, in a movie that’s so clearly about fantasy, you can indulge it a storybook ending.
Pop or Poop?
Edgar Wright is back with a bang in Baby Driver and this is a film that, thus far at least, leaves every other summer blockbuster offering in its rear-view mirror. Ansel Elgort provides an anchor point to two hours of propulsive filmmaking that is hyperactive without ever losing control.
Wright choreographs and contrives with a remarkable eye for detail. What he constructs is a motoring masterpiece that is endlessly impressive in its flawless execution. It’s something that has never been seen before, from a director with unmistakable vision.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.