Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live life with your own, personal soundtrack? Baby doesn’t just wonder, he lives it.
Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s first directorial offering since The World’s End, starts with a car chase, ends with a car chase, and completely wins you over somewhere in the middle. Merging often disparate themes, Wright seamlessly blends music, action, romance and comedy, all while moving across a heist-flick backdrop. Opening the film, we meet Baby – who’s wonderfully played by Ansel Elgort – and get our first glimpse of the playful incorporation of music into the story.
Firing up his iPod, Baby sits, waiting for that day’s team of hoodlums to rob a bank so he can perform his end of the heist as the getaway driver. As the first track rolls we start to see the synchronicity of action and beats that will ultimately define the pace and style of the entire film. Everything from car horns to gunshots and windshield wipers to squealing tires align with the notes as the music literally – and maybe a little ironically – conducts the action like a symphony. But this isn’t some two hour music video.
Same Old Story?
I’m already seeing other critics saying great things about the film overall, but commenting how the story is its weakness. This couldn’t be more wrong. Baby Driver‘s usage of so many different storytelling elements make the use of an overly intricate plot or convoluted storyline impossible. A smaller, more streamlined narrative isn’t just a smart choice, it’s the Wright one. Sorry, I couldn’t pass that up.
But don’t let my comments fool you either, there’s a great, albeit simple, tale being told that’s the glue holding the other bits of madness together. Part musical, part crime thriller, part Shakespeare in the parkway, Baby Driver’s chaotic pace and flamboyant delivery goes all-in on Style without sacrificing an engaging story. It’s not style over substance when the substance itself is style. These aspects serve to highlight the charming fable at the center of this crowded dance floor.
It’s actually a little difficult to breakdown and critique this film. There are so many moving parts swirled around with such far-out flavors that it almost does it an injustice looking at it as anything less that its whole. So many things have to go right (I won’t do it again) for that kind of coalescence, and in this case, the biggest wins come from its castings.
Ansel Elgort as Baby gives you an endearing and relatable protagonist whose tinnitus – brought on by a childhood accident – is the reason for his constant usage of music-spewing earbuds. And even though so much of what happens on screen is beyond realistic, you believe everything about Baby is real. Elgort delivers a completely whole character worth following.
His romantic interest in the film is Debora, who’s played expertly by Lily James. Another portrayal of a complete and refined character that James nails from her first seconds on the screen. Add in the real chemistry generated by the two and the Bonnie and Clyde-like aspect of the story totally works despite the short time-line and crazy circumstances.
Another two on-screen killers are Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey. Obviously not a surprise to hear those two put on a good show, but the nuanced performances they deliver are just so spot on. Foxx as a lead thug looking for a big payday and Spacey as the gang’s facilitator – and Baby’s mentor/owner – add such color and character to their scenes I spent most of the film not sure who I wanted to get more screen time. Everyone else: Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, C.J. Jones and Eiza González, totally put on a fantastic show and deserve far more praise than I’m offering them here.
The hook, the thing that will make you watch this film a second or third time is its style. Its presentation of visual information in a way that both surprises and captivates. We talked about the music – a soundtrack that will give Guardians of the Galaxy 1 a run for its money – the action, the acting, but none of that gets to your little peepers without great sets, perfect wardrobe and a camera in the Wright place. Ok, just one more.
The biggest compliment I can give to all three of these elements is that, other than to marvel at, I didn’t notice them. I didn’t see a “set” because it felt like an actual environment. I didn’t notice the wardrobe because everyone on screen was a character, not an actor playing dress up. And most of all, I didn’t feel like a spectator, I felt like I was there watching everything thanks to amazing cinematography.
Like with everything, it all comes down to choices, and the choices made here were spot-on for the story being told. Hannibal wasn’t the only one who liked it when a plan came together. And what you get when it does can be quite wonderful.
Other than a few pacing issues, I literally can’t say a single bad thing about this movie. Will it be for everyone? No, nothing is. But when measuring its successes versus its intent, Baby Driver is a marvelously crafted, impeccably designed experience that gets so very much right. Factor in the super cool use of music, the blistering action and style-filled dialogue and I think this one’ll be talked about for quite a while.
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