Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jaime Foxx
One driver, one mob boss, one debt, and one chance to pay it all off and walk away forever. It’s not necessarily an original premise, but in the hands of Edgar Wright, the mastermind behind modern day classics such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, it might as well be.
Despite having seen this concept done several times before, it’s Wright’s execution that’s wholly original.
His unique spin on the story comes in the form of Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young man burdened with tinnitus who works as a getaway driver for armed robberies, using music to drown out the noise and execute his escapes. His boss (Kevin Spacey), offers him a final job to repay his debt, but when he falls in love with a waitress (Lily James), it complicates his way out.
We’re used to Edgar Wright doing comedies, as each and every one of his films up until now have been under that genre. And while Baby Driver does feature plenty of laughs, it relies far more on the action and high stakes in the story rather than comedy. It’s a bold new direction for Wright, and sees him tackling a new genre and flexing his range as a filmmaker further than ever before.
And of course, he pulls it off spectacularly. Right from the opening scene, you know you’re in for something great. A high-pitched ringing plays under the production company logos before fading into music. The film then cuts to Baby and the crew, consisting of Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Griff (Jon Bernthal), as they pull up alongside the bank for a big heist.
The robbers hop out of the vehicle in stunning coordination, as if this is second nature. Baby is left in the car. He plugs in his headphones, hits play, and “Bellbottoms” by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion bursts over the speakers as he hypes himself up for the getaway. What follows next is one of the most exhilarating car chases you’re likely to ever see put to film.
Whether it’s through the swift editing, the incredible stunt choreography, the emphasis on practical effects, or the spot-on syncopation with the film’s soundtrack, Wright proves himself as a highly-capable director when it comes to action.
We’ve seen bits and pieces of this talent in the past, whether it was an encounter with an evil ex in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or the bathroom fight sequence in The World’s End, but in Baby Driver, he doesn’t hold back. Each and every action setpiece is fast-paced, energetic, and stylized with precision and creativity.
There are three action sequences in particular – one in each act – that left me speechless. Wright makes these scenes feel so special through his use of music. The film has a soundtrack comprised of 30 songs that play almost consistently throughout the film, and the movie seems to revolve around them. The music and the visuals are constantly bound together, seamlessly interwoven and propelling the film forward at a breakneck pace. From the minute Baby first hits “play”, you’re hooked.
Here, the music clearly came first, and the film was based upon it. There are several action scenes that are essentially choreographed around the song playing, giving both the scene and the song a heightened sense of energy.
It’s this film’s heavy emphasis on action and music that make it so surprising to know that it comes from Edgar Wright to begin with. Aside from a few trademark aesthetics, like the way he transitions scenes and a Shaun of the Dead-esque tracking shot that follows Baby on his way to pick up coffee, you wouldn’t know that this came from Wright himself.
In a lot of ways, this feels like an American heist film that could have come out in the 1970s. From the parking garages, to the diners, the warehouses, and the lively Atlanta city streets, Wright challenges himself with new aesthetics and influences. And he accomplishes nearly everything to sheer perfection.
If the film has any faults, they’re very minor and far between. Character dynamics get a bit messy as the film progresses, when certain motivations seem to change out of nowhere towards the climax. And speaking of motivations, I found it hard to believe that Debora would drop everything to start a new life with a man she had only been on one date with, even while knowing he was a getaway driver for dangerous criminals.
Outside of that, however, this film is as focused as can be. It pulls from its influences in all the right ways, while carving out its own identity all the way through.
Baby is a familiar but compelling protagonist. He’s a skilled driver doing wrong so he can do some right, using his earnings to support his elderly foster father, who he lives with after the sudden death of his parents. He has a good heart and bad luck, and as a viewer, nothing will make you happier than to see things go his way for once.
And what makes this all the more surprising is the fact that Baby is played by the most generic, pretty-boy white actor working day, Ansel Elgort. For the longest time, I thought this guy was nothing more than a teen heartthrob, but here, he shines. He’ll sell you on his charismatic performance right from the opening scene. But what impressed me the most was his dramatic range; he’s able to say so much more through a tense glare than any line of dialogue could have. It almost makes me want to reshape my perspective on the guy as an actor.
The rest of the cast is stellar, as well. Lily James is insanely charming as the simple waitress with big aspirations, Kevin Spacey is endlessly cool as the kingpin, Jaime Foxx delivers a typically-fun performance as a loose cannon criminal, and Jon Hamm might just be the best of the bunch, playing an unpredictable gunman who hides his seething rage just barely below the surface.
I’d have to think about it, but this just might be my favorite film of the year so far. It has everything I love in a movie: crime, drama, humor, heists, cool dialogue, late-night diners with neon signs, thrilling shootouts, and of course, a killer soundtrack. It’s gonna take a lot to top this one.
The Verdict: Baby Driver might just be Edgar Wright’s most impressive accomplishment yet. It sees him pushing himself in an entirely new direction, forgoing comedy for a high-stakes crime thriller that revs up and never slows down. From the very moment you hear “Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen!”, you’re in, baby.