Director : Edgar Wright
Year Of Release : 2017
Principal Cast : Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, John Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Flea, Lanny Joon, CJ Jones, Sky Ferriera, Lance Palmer, Big Boi, Killer Mike.
Approx Running Time : 113 Minutes
Synopsis: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
There’s an element of incredible filmmaking skill to Baby Driver that I haven’t seen since Baz Luhrmann dazzled us with Moulin Rouge: turning a musical into a work of absolute art. Baby Driver, the latest film from Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim (and one-time Ant-Man) helmer Edgar Wright, is a masterwork of musical action intensity, a cleverly filmed, incredibly well edited, foot-tapping good time at the movies, and it’s the kind of film where all the things in the film work together in perfect harmony (isn’t that a song lyric?) to create a movie that just clicks. Remove a single element of Baby Driver, particularly its eclectic soundtrack, and the whole thing wouldn’t work nearly as well, and it’s testament to Wright’s skill as a director that he manages to balance the charm, wit, danger and energy of what is an utterly preposterous story with a perfectly ripe sense of the sublime.
Young getaway driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort – the Divergent franchise) suffers from tinnitus, and must constantly listen to his iPod to drown out the ringing; he is begrudgingly working off a debt owed to the city’s local criminal kingpin, Doc (Kevin Spacey – Se7en, House Of Cards), by using his incredible skills behind the wheel to ferry Doc’s teams of robbers and thieves to safety following a crime. After finally paying off his debt, Baby thinks he’s in the clear, and starts a romance with local diner waitress Debbie (Lily James- Cinderella), before Doc blackmails him back into “one last job” to set him up for life. Baby does so only after pressure is put on him to think about the safety of his foster father, a now elderly deaf man named Joseph (CJ Jones). Doc assembles the violent sociopath Bats (Jamie Foxx – Ray, Any Given Sunday), and husband and wife team Buddy (John Hamm – The Town, SuckerPunch) and Darling (Eisa Gonzalez – Jem & The Holograms) to rob a post office of bonds; Baby, realising the job could turn extremely ugly, does his best to sabotage the job without giving the game away, but ends up being caught in the middle of a gang of thugs all out to kill him, to say nothing of the police hunting them all down.
Baby Driver opens with a blast of adrenalised musical action, and rarely lets up. Infusing tricksy editing of his high-octane action sequences to some off-the-wall and popular musical numbers, along with a sense of playfully romanticised fantasy, Wright and Ansel Elgort amp up the uber-cool slickback style of Baby’s youthful career in crime and deliver a rousing, rocking good time. It’s bloody, violent, hair-raising and more often hilarious, and Wright’s script is a delicate balance of potentially kitschy romantic effervescence and that Rock Hudson-slash-James Dean sense of style, with dynamic action beats and a truly self-aware soundtrack that borders on overblown meta-comedy. Wright weaves his soundtrack into the very DNA of the film, using Baby’s hearing impairment as a catalyst for the pounding, driving musical themes prevalent within the story. Wright has chosen the perfect songs with which to accompany the majority of the film’s contrasting tones, from upbeat to downbeat to melancholy to fearful to everything in between – it’s a heady mix of old, new and indie, and transports us easily into a world that works superbly well.
Music aside, the film also works well thanks to the cast, who perform superbly and so obviously get the joke that this film isn’t based in any kind of reality. A kinetic Jamie Foxx leads from the front, as the batshit crazy Bats, a man prone to excessive violence and who’s suspicious of everyone, which leads to the film’s climactic final act being a run-n-gun shooting chase masterpiece. Foxx is charismatic and sadistic, delivering the exact amount of unhinged creepiness to the role that sets off the chain of events to follow. John Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez are solid as the film’s Bonnie & Clyde motif, a husband and wife duo looking for thrills, adrenaline and wealth to prop up their hard-partying lifestyle, while Kevin Spacey simply oozes malevolence and power from every orifice as Doc: you know he’s bad, he knows he’s bad, but he never has to do much to prove it. Smaller roles to Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist Flea (who also had a role in Back To The Future, for those so inclined) as a member of Doc’s gang, Jon Bernthal as a hard-bitten criminal early in the film, and CJ Jones as Baby’s deaf foster father, are welcome additions to the story, with the latter offering a sense of familiarity and humanity to Baby’s otherwise incredible framework.
Obviously, Ansel Elgort and Lily James lead the charge here, as Baby and Debbie respectively, the lovers caught up in Baby’s life of crime (the latter, inadvertently). James is radiant in the role, a mix of youthful sexuality and innocence, unaware of Baby’s history but willing to go with him into the sunset, and I found her role as Baby’s focus for getting out of the business legitimised Wright’s faith in her. Elgort, meanwhile, brings a weird off-balance vibe to the role of Baby; he’s very clever but not to the point of being able to outwit the villains around him, and he’s certainly no match for them physically. Instead, he has to let his music and driving do the talking (so to speak), and Elgort handles himself well. Given the way the film hurtles along, it’s a fraction disappointing not to have a little more character development to Debbie’s role – she’s the token fantasy woman, beautiful and fragile, somebody Baby can “save” – to complement that given to Baby himself, but it’s hardly a movie-ruining element to consider.
Baby Driver is a whole blast of fun; from its dynamite opening sequence to its sentimentally kitschy closing moments, Wright’s jubilant homage to popular music and violent criminality lacks a truly nasty edge but delivers a bloody good time at the movies. A terrific cast, sublime soundtrack and Wright’s incredibly tight editorial virtuosity (something I felt he nailed in Hot Fuzz, less so with his more recent output) form the foundation of one of 2017’s most engaging and enthusiastic movies, and I for one couldn’t be happier with what I saw. I’m pretty sure it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (fans of Jason Bourne might be aghast at this movie’s lack of adherence to the laws of physics) but it retains a glossy, slick aesthetic that I thought worked superbly.
© 2017, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.