Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)
Synopsis: Amid a summer of flops, director Edgar Wright delivers a chop shop delight in the form of Baby Driver. Brimming with upbeat tones from a brilliant playlist of songs the film cheekily nods to the car films to which it pays homage, while never falling into the trap of self-seriousness.
Admittedly, Baby Driver did not begin well for me. The opening scene felt like Drive had mutated into a musical and I am not a fan of musicals as revealed in my review of La La Land. Instead of Ryan Gosling broodingly awaiting robbers in midnight Los Angeles, Baby (Ansel Elgort) mimes songs in downtown Atlanta while his crew robs a bank in broad daylight. Once the film began in earnest however, my fears about the film receded as Baby Driver is about escapism, symbolised by the music and cars and encapsulated by love interest Deborah’s desire to head West in a car and just listen to music.
For me Shaun of the Dead is still Edgar Wright’s best film, but Baby Driver is Wright at his directorial best. Wright’s film-making has always brimmed with subversiveness. Rather than hoodwinking you into disbelief, Wright’s work is all too aware that it is just a story and revels in its own artifice, creating knowingly surreal scenes from ordinary moments such as Hot Fuzz’s sea mine scene. Boasting a bigger budget than Wright’s last film At World’s End, Baby Driver could be a comic book. Whole segments are awash with primary colours and both characters and cars are choreographed step by step while the camera rotates round. The music is the final touch which turns Baby Driver into an exquisite dance. Baby’s playlist perforates every part of the film. His music protects him from the real world. He synchronises events and actions in time with his songs, projecting a sense of control over what happens around him. Once the story unfolds and things sour, the real world bleeds over into Baby’s songs as he loses any semblance of control. This shift is done to great effect, especially in one later gunfight orchestrated to Focus’ Hocus Pocus with shots ringing in time with the guitar riff.
The cast is a mix of predictable and surprising choices. Jon Berthanal and Kevin Spacey play bagman, Griff, and criminal mastermind, Doc, respectively. Both roles fit each actor’s portrayal of bad guys in the past. Gruff is physically menacing, reminiscent of Berthanal’s character Shane from The Walking Dead, while Doc is a diluted and more comedic Frank Underwood from House of Cards. The more surprising choices were Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. Foxx is truly volatile as bank robber, Bats, his bloodlust and unpredictability to fellow heist members and innocent bystanders becomes clear very quickly. Completely sociopathic and unashamedly greedy, Bat’s recital that the money belongs to him before every heist chillingly shows how cold-blooded he is. Hamm, even as robber Buddy, is charming. Drawing on his work playing Don Draper in Mad Men, Hamm humanizes this unlikeable character through Buddy’s fondness for Baby.
Ansel Elgort seemed to jar with the film in the initial trailers, but casting him as the titular Baby fits the lighter tone of the story’s first half. Instead of following the trope in car films to have a tough guy like Ryan Gosling as the driver, Elgort, both youthful and gangly, fits the baby-like qualities of his character. Elgort is also capable of smoothly switching to a more serious tone when the film becomes darker. Lily James is good as love interest Deborah and curiously Red Hot Chili Pepper member Flea has a brief cameo as Bat’s crew member Eddie No-Nose.
Ultimately, what shines through in Baby Driver is Wright’s love for car films. The car chases nod towards the various films that Wright was inspired by, from Bullitt to The Blues Brothers. Wright readily admits how the car scenes pay tribute to his favourite drive films in an article for Sight and Sound. Beyond drive films, Baby Driver indirectly owes a debt to Michael Mann’s heist films. Baby’s inner turmoil over his life mimics James Cann’s character in Thief, while a frantic escape scene through downtown Atlanta bore a resemblance to the Heat’s downtown shootout.
Baby Driver is a great film which is still showing at odd times in U.K. cinemas and is well worth seeing before it comes to DVD this autumn.
By Saul Shimmin
For the trailer, see below: