As CGI robots clanged into each other and superheroes saved the world in the last few years, here’s Edgar Wright to ask if you remember how movies used to thrill us with a turn of phrase, a squeal of a wheel, a diving plot twist. “Baby Driver” feels both influenced by the modern era of self-aware, pop-culture film making and charmingly old-fashioned at the same time. It’s as much fun as you’re going to have in a movie theater this year.
A talented, young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. When he meets the girl of his dreams (Lily James), Baby sees a chance to ditch his criminal life and make a clean getaway. But after being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), he must face the music when a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.
If you don’t know who Edgar Wright is by now, what are you even doing here? Get the hell off the computer and track down his filmography ASAP, then we’ll talk !!
Baby Driver is a comedy/crime which is really hard to compare to any other film from these genres. It takes the attention from viewer at the beginning to end while giving the big amount of perfectly fitting music. Rhythmic gunshots and even lyrical graffiti add a sense of play that contrasts the deep menace and foreboding as the body count rises and mayhem ensues.
As the song Bellbottoms kicks in and Baby (Elgort) launches into an exquisitely choreographed, full-throttle car chase set-piece, it becomes apparent that this is not a film just set to music. But a film meticulously, ambitiously laid over the bones of carefully chosen tracks. It’s as close to a car-chase opera as you’ll ever see on screen.
The music drives the action, the action syncs to the notes, and the hypersonic car chases leave you popeyed; and yet, this is not the traffic of “La La Land,” gridlocked along a freeway on ramp. Cutting rhythms are jagged. Narrative structures aren’t just contrapuntal, they’re orchestral; every scene has been edited within a frame of its life.
When people say there’s nothing new under the sun, they’re either resistant to originality or stuck in the shade. The elements here are as old as the Hollywood Hills: pop, rock, romance, shiny rides, daring heists, blazing guns, blood in the streets, the lure of the road. But it all feels new, different and captivating at the same time.
Also, the supporting cast of characters is one of the film’s biggest strengths. Spacey’s Doc is full of menace, yet oddly paternal and gifted with some of the best one-liners. Partners in crime Buddy and Darling are played by Jon Hamm and Eiza González to just the right side of clichéd comedic perfection, with Hamm turning in a third-act performance that is so wonderfully deranged you feel Don Draper spinning in the earth below his feet. Jamie Foxx rounds it out as hard-nosed, nihilistic career thief Bats. Foxx is particularly phenomenal in a role that’s both funny and filled with simmering danger.
There’s a remarkably old-fashioned sensibility to the way Wright structures and details his film, and it’s not just because his two genetically blessed stars look like they could have walked out of a 1940’s noir . And in the full noir film tradition, he dreams of the good life he’ll have after one last caper, even though we see that the gang’s luck is running out.
So, in the end, what does all the style and flash add up to? This is not a philosophy of criminology, or a case of supporting antisocial behavior… But it makes for a terrific night at the movies. It gives the sense that everyone is fully engaged, almost tapping their feet to the rhythm of the film.
I still believe this is why most people go to the movies with crowds of strangers , to feel that shared magic and nod their heads in unison to the cinematic tune…