Sometimes, the summer movie season can be an insufferably bland cinematic desert. This wasteland is filled with unnecessary sequels, silly reboots and just plain bad movies. Any unique movie is like a fleeting but utterly refreshing breeze.
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is not only that breeze, it is an oasis in that cinematic wasteland. The unique action film relies on outstanding performances, an emotional story, and Wright’s meticulous direction. But what truly makes the film standout is the creative way the soundtrack makes a gritty heist film into an almost lyrical experience.
“So Are You In?”
Baby Driver follows Baby (Ansel Elgort), a talented getaway driver who uses music to drown out the ringing in his ears from a childhood accident. As he works away a debt to the charismatic heist mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey), he meets waitress Debora (Lily James) a kindred soul with dreams of a life on the road. Their plans are stopped cold when Baby is forced into one last heist with a group of volatile killers.
Edgar Wright injects his usual sense of fun and love of film into Baby Driver, playing with our expectations of a heist film. We get the long tracking shots, the quick cuts and off the wall humor. There are callbacks to classics of the genre just like Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. He also continues to show his eye for kinetic action as every chase scenes is expertly executed. Those traits alone would be enough to please a hardcore Wright fan, but what makes this film really stand out is its use of music.
The film heavily relies on its soundtrack. Baby is a young man who immerses himself in music, which in turn immerses the film in music. It completely turns the heist film on its head. When we first meet Baby, he brandishes sunglasses and a quiet confidence…and then he begins to dance. You can’t help smiling whenever he does this and the sequences never feel jarring. This welcome change feels natural because the chase scenes are filmed with the same attention to rhythm and timing. It’s not quite a musical, but it is something very crazy…and very entertaining.
Blended into the crazy action is genuine emotion, thanks to an outstanding cast. Elgort is great as the kid of few words, Baby. He carries himself with a nearly silent swagger, but he is also a sympathetic hero. He is charming in a subtle way, a kid who simply wants to runaway from his troubles. But he stays due to his debts to both Doc and his foster dad. He tries to keep a distance from the violent heists and is genuinely shocked by the murderous ways of his criminal colleagues. Wright keeps his hero a comfortable distance from the actual heists, as we stay with Baby during the violent encounters. We rarely see any gunfights unless Baby gets involved, making them more shocking.
Those violent heists are perpetrated by dangerous but utterly watchable criminals. Kevin Spacey is great as Doc, who has an intriguing dynamic with Baby. He threatens the young man, but also cares for him in a way only a criminal could appreciate. Outside of Debora, this is probably the deepest relationship Baby has with anyone.
Jamie Foxx virtually steals every scene he is in as the volatile Bats. He is probably the most outwardly crazed of the criminals Baby meets, but Foxx’s natural charisma draws you in. Jon Hamm’s Buddy is one of the more interesting characters because his menace is a little more subtle. The “evolution” of the character is rewarding in its own way. And Eiza Gonzalez’s Darling is a fun Bonnie to Buddy’s Clyde. And if you notice, each of their names are a nice nod to their traits.
“Am I In?”
Elgort and James have palpable chemistry together. Both play their young love right out of a cinematic dream perfectly. They are genuinely sweet together, with their love of music fueling their relationship.
However, James’ Debora is a little one note in comparison to the other eclectic characters in the film. Whenever she is on screen with Baby, the sparks crackle, but she is a somewhat typical sweet innocent you might see in any other crime drama. Granted, this may have been done on purpose, with her innocence becoming an escape from the crime ridden world. But it is distracting and it would have been nice to see more dimensions to her.
Baby Driver’s middle begins to lag due to Baby and Debora’s attempts to escape. There are some awesome character moments during the second act, but it feels like the plot starts in one direction, stalls and then turns to another plot point. And then it stalls again. This may have been a creative choice to contrast with the more kinetic pace of the rest of the film, but it is a jarring change.
“Don’t Answer My Question with Another Question…”
Baby Driver doesn’t push the action film envelope…it tries to reinvent it. Despite a troubled second act, the film manages to be truly unique in the best way possible. This is a labor of cinematic love courtesy of Edgar Wright and that love is infectious. It’s an exhilarating treat for any cinephile.
SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10