“The moment you catch feelings is the moment you catch a bullet.”
A couple of years ago, after trying and failing to get an Ant-Man film moving with Marvel Studios, Edgar Wright returned to his long gestating passion project, a film in the making since at least the early 90’s. Ideas from the script can be seen in other works of Wright’s (most notably the 2002 music video for Mint Royale’s ‘Blue Song’) but it’s only now, with Baby Driver, that Wright’s script is fully realised. But without a cornetto in sight can Wright achieve a commercial success? His last Pegg/Frost-less film was the awesome, but commercially disappointing, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. And Baby Driver’s a hard sell. It’s a love letter to the forgotten car chase cinema of the 70’s set to a near-constant soundtrack of obscure tracks. Can it stand with best of Wright’s filmography (Hot Fuzz) and be a hit? Well it might be too early to call the overall box office but signs point to yes, it certainly can.
Baby Driver follows the eponymous Baby (B-A-B-Y, Baby), played by relative newcomer Ansel Elgort. He’s the silent, shade wearing getaway driver on numerous jobs with various nefarious criminals, all under the leadership of Doc (a fabulous Kevin Spacey). Due to a tragic childhood incident Baby has tinnitus, or a ‘hum in the drum’ as Spacey wonderfully puts it, which he counteracts with his eclectic music playlist. He listens to music constantly, choreographing his life to the sound of T.Rex and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Car doors shutting, characters footsteps, and even gunshots are perfectly synchronised to the beat of Baby’s chosen track. Edgar Wright has done a rare thing in modern cinema and actually created something that made me think ‘huh, that’s new’. Hopefully it won’t turn out to be the sort of trick that’ll catch on and be ran into the ground by subsequent imitators (à la the Greengrass style shaky-cam seemingly all action films post The Bourne Supremacy tried to emulate). To be honest I don’t think it will. It’s very much part of the overall ‘Edgar Wright’ directing style, which has always had a rhythm to it even before Baby Driver. Think of the jump-cuts in the Cornetto trilogy or his use of frenetic whip pans and crash zooms. Hell, think about the famous ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ scene from Shaun of The Dead, where the characters beat down the zombie barkeep perfectly in time to the Queen hit. Wright’s been practising for Baby Driver his whole career.
The cast of Baby Driver are unanimously fantastic, relative newcomers and acting legends alike. Elgort in the title role is destined for big things. His portrayal of Baby is funny and charming, but without the annoying douchiness that frequently accompanies his contemporaries (*cough* Miles Teller *cough*). Lily James, who plays diner waitress Debora, is also wonderful. Looking like a character straight out of Twin Peak’s Double R Diner, James lights up the screen every time she appears and elevates the role above being merely a love interest for Baby. One of the films only faults is that it doesn’t give her more to do, although spending too much time with her might have robbed the character of what made here mysterious and alluring to Baby in the first place. The rest of the cast are outstanding and include the likes of Jamie Foxx as psycho thug for hire Bats, Jon Hamm and Eiza González as the live wire bank robbing couple Buddy and Darling, and Kevin Spacey as the cold and calculating boss Doc. Spacey is his usual wonderfully camp self and John Hamm lives up to his name, delivering a beautifully unhinged performance – especially when a third act status quo reshuffle allows him to go full Hamm. Jamie Foxx is nuts too, stealing whatever scene he’s in. His pre-crime ritual of repeatedly telling himself he’s taking back what was stole from him is a creepy touch. Him justifying his upcoming crimes just goes to show how on the brink of insanity he is. Baby feels Bats’ wrath most, as Bats takes an instant disliking to the driver. Luckily the torment Baby receives is repaid ten fold when Bats gets possibly the best villain exit of the year so far. Small but hilarious appearances from the likes of Jon Bernthal and Flea are the just the cherries on top of the cake.
Unlike pretty much all of Edgar Wright’s previous work Baby Driver isn’t a comedy – it’s a straight up action film. Taking inspiration from the classic car chase movies of the 70’s like The Driver and Smokey and The Bandit and heist flicks of the 90’s like Heat and Point Break, Baby Driver is a pop culture mash-up with a healthy dollop of Wright’s typically frenetic direction. The breakneck action scenes are awe-inspiringly choreographed and Wright’s love of cinema comes through strongly. A late in the film on-foot chase harks back to the best of Bigalow and the car chases are some of the best ever committed to cinema. I actually the think the car chases owe more of a debt to the fantastic taxi chase in Paul Greengrass’ The Bourne Supremacy than the slower more deliberate pacing of something like Bullitt. Either way though, they’re incredibly awesome. The highlight has got to be the third act chase, which is pretty much the entire third act. Baby and Debora go though multiple cars and car crashes ending with an explosive final shootout in a parking garage (including the movies most badass moment courtesy of Kevin Spacey).
The Bottom Line: Edgar Wright continues his winning streak with probably his best movie yet. An action musical tour-de-force and a cinema lover’s dream. Nearly everything about the film is as perfect as can be. From the break neck action to the awesome direction to the brilliant cast, it’s all excellent. Some people might use the (stupid) criticism that it’s all style over substance. And that’s pretty much true. But when the style is as irresistible and as well crafted as it is here, that’s not a criticism at all.
(Here’s that killer soundtrack. Good luck getting “Was He Slow” out of your head)