Edgar Wright’s latest film, Baby Driver, is an absolute triumph that’s a goddamn orgy for the senses
“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton
Truly original films seem to be a dying breed these days. For every Swiss Army Man or Synecdoche, New York there’s a Transformers 5, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, or the next puzzle piece in the latest big, hot cinematic connected universe. There’s a different feeling that’s present when watching something that’s not being adapted from any source material or purely there to sell toys or perpetuate a franchise. Baby Driver doesn’t just generate that beautiful feeling; it drowns you in it. With Baby Driver you’ll cheer more than you did in Rogue One. Get a bigger adrenaline rush than you did in John Wick: Chapter 2. And grab your head in sheer disbelief of what you’re watching more than anything else you’ve seen this year.
Yeah, I liked this movie.
To be fair, every single film that Edgar Wright has turned out has managed to top the previous one in some way as well as being an absolute triumph of filmmaking. Baby Driver runs over its competition and doesn’t even slow down to examine its kill. This movie rockets forward like it has something to prove to the world and that energy is the perfect fuel to keep this experience running at peak performance. But let’s shift this car into reverse for a little bit. The premise of Baby Driver is remarkably simple. Baby (played sublimely by Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver that finds himself increasingly put off by the criminal antics and personas that he finds driving shotgun with him (both figuratively and literally). As Baby finds himself falling for the adorable Debora (Lily James), he’s given the push that he needs to turn his back on this world of crime. Oh, and he likes music. Like a lot. Like a lot a lot. And it’s within that simple detail that Baby Driver becomes different than all of those other heist and car chase films out there.
If even a fraction of Baby Driver’s marketing campaign has made its way to you, then you know that music is a crucial part of the film. But you don’t really know how crucial music is to the film. Baby Driver is not a musical in the conventional sense of the word, but it feels like it is during many points. Baby’s running soundtrack is playing under about 90 percent of the movie, and the moments that aren’t accompanied by some beat effectively stand out. The film turns up Baby’s crippling tinnitus to illustrate just how painful silence can be.
All of Baby’s getaway and car chase scenes are utter delights for the senses to take in. Wright has spoken about how many of these moments were carefully curated to these specific tracks or that the lengths of scenes were specifically dictated by track lengths. Just like how films like Scott Pilgrim and The World’s End helped Wright become a master of filming exhaustive fight scenes, he translates that ability over to frenzied car chases this time around and more than rises to the challenge.
Music is more than just a tool that helps Baby effectively drive. It’s something he uses for every aspect of his life, to the point that it feels like he’s trying to “remix” his life into one big soundtrack. Simple scenes like Baby making a sandwich or going out to get coffee show off how much of his life he has choreographed to his internal soundtrack. The beginning of this movie often feels like you’re watching a number of music videos stitched together. The previously mentioned “coffee scene” is the perfect light-hearted introduction to this universe that has all of the timing and humor of a bombastic musical. It’s impossible for the scene to not melt your heart and cause a smirk.
There’s a scene where Baby is shown peacefully, methodically mixing one of his recordings of Doc (Kevin Spacey) to turn into music. The moment is certainly played for laughs, but it’s also telling the audience a ton about how Baby needs this level of control. While the film goes to great lengths to prove that Baby is not slow in any sense of the word, there is something askew with him and he finds himself obsessively at the mercy of music as it seems to be the only tool he has in getting through life. There’s a brilliant episode of the science-fiction series, Fringe, where a character is essentially a walking Rube Goldberg machine. The villain is able to carefully orchestrate murders by seemingly random acts like simply dropping a ballpoint pen. These sprawling scenes of Baby rushing through his day with precision couldn’t help but remind me of this Fringe installment, only Baby Driver is using these powers for awesomeness and visual stimulation rather than murder.
Baby’s compulsion with music and his requirement for the specificity of it is also deeply reminiscent of Wright’s “Mint Royale” music video that acts as the inspiration for this entire film. The music video (which is ostensibly the opening of the movie) shows a getaway driver beholden to the length of his music. The video begins with the following dialogue:
“Two—three minutes max.”
“Could you be a little more specific?”
“Two and a half to three minutes. Let’s call it 2:45.”
“No. More. 2:54.”
“Okay, you’ve got Two minutes and 54 seconds from now.”
At this point the character begins flipping through a booklet of CDs until he finds the music with the right length. This moment is mirrored several times within Baby Driver, but because this is a film and not just a music video, the dangerous repercussions of this musicality are also explored. If you’ll pardon the pun, Baby is very much a slave to the rhythm. It happens to be his gateway and escape to continue moving forward, but it can also leave him spinning his wheels and stuck in place. Wright doesn’t struggle to illustrate how Baby’s soundscape to his life makes everything seem inevitably cooler, but he also mines genuine tension from watching Baby struggling to move because he can’t find the right music to push him forward. The music is as much of a crutch to Baby as it is a superpower, and that’s a reasonably deep idea to hide away in this flashy heist caper.
As Wright’s film has fun bouncing around all of these ideas, Baby is shown being the driver on three separate heists. Each new job that Baby pulls off ends up adding a little more sugar to his moral gas tank each time, tainting his purity. Moments of extreme violence slowly creep up around the edges of Baby’s life. He feels that he’s able to tune this out by continually turning up his volume, but it’s soon clear that this is no lasting solution. If anything, Baby is learning that he might be more of a criminal than he’s willing to admit. Baby’s journey as he struggles through this transformation is just as thrilling as any of the car chases and Elgort totally sells it with his subdued performance. In fact, the entire cast is nitrous in an engine. Jamie Foxx continues to remind people that he can be a reliable wild card, Kevin Spacey gets some of the funniest lines in the film and acts as a surprising emotional core, and relative newcomer Eiza Gonzalez leaves most of her range to an isolated scene at a diner, but it’s wonderful stuff. Jon Hamm really excels here though and turns into an effectively terrifying villain. Behind Elgort’s hypnotic performance, Hamm is the other stand-out. There are truly no weak links here.
Edgar Wright’s previous films might all be interested in the idea of maturity and entering adulthood, and while Baby Driver isn’t bereft of those themes (especially in terms of responsibility), it feels like the director might be able to move on from such themes. At this point Wright has proven that he’s pretty much able to tackle anything. With the slew of superhero films and sequels that are attacking the cinemas this summer, do yourself a favor and check out a movie that’s trying to do something different. Baby Driver says that all you need is one killer track, but this film has over 30 of them. Buckle up and enjoy.
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