Baby Driver is a film of absolute purity. While leaving I tried to think of a witty way to describe it. I settled on cocaine, thought it was good enough, wrote it down, posted it, moved on. I told my friends that I loved it, but I wouldn’t be able to watch it again any time soon. There was just something about it that stunk of a one-and-done affair, call it the come down? The next day I felt it calling in the back of my head as I told my family about it and discussed it with friends. The day after, I was longing for it even more. Watching the first five or so minutes online, trailer after trailer, seeking that same buzz again.
It’s been four days now and to satiate this hunger just for a little while I’m sat here writing about it. Replaying scenes with fond vividness. That’s what ‘Baby Driver’ does, it leaves some sort of imprint that just seems to linger, and that’s a feeling usually reserved for films that have something truly important to say. Themes that beg discussion, call for debate. Movies that are unclear in their message or just so out there you can’t stop thinking about what you just witnessed. The true achievement of ‘Baby Driver’ is that it can do so much with a pitch that could be written on a fingernail, with a heap of style, tenacity, and joy.
Most would expect nothing less from Edgar Wright, director of the lauded Cornetto Trilogy. These movies all ooze style in the form of Wright’s signature editing style and visual comedy. I admire these films. I’ve watched Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz many times, and yet I still struggle to truly appreciate them. I see great movies being filtered down by my brain into what I can only see as interesting films, with a few laughs. Even ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ refuses to be loved by my head.
So clearly Baby Driver, the story of a driver named… Baby, convincingly portrayed by Ansel Elgort, is different. The fact the movie is an action packed heist film, clearly suggests a change of tone. I personally left this one with a sense that Wright had left his mark in the best possible way, without making the movie feel too much like an Edgar Wright film. For me, this was perfect as I could appreciate the relentless creativity that he provides, without the sense of being dragged through his style. Some will read this as blasphemy, but I implore you not to let the dilution of Wright’s usual style turn you off. The film still drips with style and personality, Wright has just shown us a whole new side to his direction that I cannot wait to see flourish in the future. Few films will ever be as unique as this one.
Baby himself is an incredible driver, ferrying criminals to and from heists in such an effortless display of muscle memory. His body becomes the vehicle in which he resides. how does he stay in touch with his body? Music.
This is the part that makes Baby Driver something else entirely. Baby has tinnitus, a constant ringing in his ears, and to drown this out he listens to music on his assortment of iPods. Not only does this allow us to indulge in an incredible soundtrack featuring the likes of Golden Earring and the best use of Hocus Pocus I have ever seen, but Wright takes it to another level by allowing the visuals to take on the beat as its own. The experience is choreographed to the beat, and the music is used to convey emotion, ferocity and fun. This is not a gimmick, this is a legitimate next level film-making technique that I cannot wait to see again, though I am skeptical of anyone else’s ability to pull it off.
Everything I have mentioned along with snappy dialogue and comedy make the standard ‘one last job’ plot seem much less contrived. Even the romance with Lily James’ Deborah has enough charm and purpose to feel like a necessary extension of the baseline story. Kevin Spacey plays an excellent crime boss, pulling all of these heists together with wry wit and a sly unnatural feeling of self peace. Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Eiza González are all on top of their game here, supplementing the films speed with their contrasting yet explosive personalities.
Baby Driver does take a seat for a while after the initial explosive action sequence or two, and this is very noticeable though necessary. It is the breather that is required to pull it all together in our heads at a pace we can register. Without this slow segment, the style would be just that, style. We wouldn’t have the stakes provided by the impressive character development, which would drop the relentless action down a grade. A movie cannot be this explosive for this long without some sort of connection to the people fighting it out on screen.
My only complaint really is with Baby himself. As we learn about his past he is effectively fleshed out, but for the first act of the film, which is fairly long, I didn’t like him. For some reason he feels the need to wander through the streets pushing people out of his way while he listens to music. He doesn’t pay attention to the people he is speaking to (and I mean this outside of the heist environment, where it makes sense) and in general he just seems overtly careless. He does eventually come into his own and I can’t imagine not rooting for him by the end, but this all seemed like a misjudged way to present the character initially, as the movie clearly did not want me to ever respond in this manner to him.
Baby Driver is just one huge stunt with a near perfect landing. The practical scale of it is fantastic, and revisiting it is extremely high on my list of priorities. I know it is late, but if you have a cinema near you showing it, seek it out, it begs to be seen as big as possible. Beware, it holds no punches.