Released June 28, 2017
Rated R (Violence and Language)
Directed and Written by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz)
Cinematography by Bill Pope (The Matrix, Spider-Man 2)
Music by Steven Price (Gravity, Fury)
Edited by Jonathan Amos (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Attack the Block) and Paul Machliss (The World’s End, Man Up)
Produced by Tim Bevan (Pirate Radio, Rush), Eric Fellner (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Les Misérables), and Nira Park (Spaced, Man Up)
Starring Ansel Elgort (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars), Lily James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey), Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, Se7en), Jon Hamm (The Town, Mad Men), Jamie Foxx (Collateral, Django Unchained), Eiza González (Jem and the Holograms, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series), CJ Jones (I Wrote That!, A Door in the Woods), and Jon Bernthal (Daredevil, The Accountant)
From Baby Driver‘s opening scene – a high-octane bank robbery and getaway filmed in unusually long takes with beautiful shot implementations and completely synchronized to the entirety of “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – I knew I was in for a treat. Then, with the following sequence being a pedestrian coffee run down the streets of Atlanta set to “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earle and full of delightful Easter eggs and nods, I knew I was in for a ride of pure fun. When the last scene was ending and the movie’s namesake, “Baby Driver” by Simon & Garfunkel, began to play, I felt I had just witnessed something more. I had just seen a classic in the making.
This movie uses music like no other non-musical ever has, and it uses its tunes just as effectively, if not more so, than most musicals do. Baby Driver‘s songs are, perhaps, even more important to the filmmaking and story here than, say, last year’s La La Land. In Baby Driver, the main character – “B-A-B-Y, Baby,” as he introduces himself – is a tinnitus-afflicted getaway driver for Atlanta’s biggest, baddest organized crime boss: Doc. Baby listens constantly to music, to keep the ringing in his ears at bay, and probably to stay sane, as well. We, the audience, also get to hear Baby’s music, which fills the movie nearly wall-to-wall, as Baby either plays it on his assortment of iPods or from his record collection at home. Edgar Wright and the film’s composer, Steven Price, have implemented all of these tracks perfectly. As a music-lover, this resonated with me. In fact, unlike most movies, the soundtrack comes first, and everything is in time with the music. Movements, gunfire, tapping, talking, and all other manner of noises in the background and foreground. . . all almost always matched up with the beats and rhythm of Baby’s tunes. Just take a look at some of these artists: The Beach Boys, The Commodores, T. Rex, Beck, Blur, Young MC, Golden Earring, Barry White, Queen, Danger Mouse. The list of artists is eclectic, contains several deep cuts, and goes on and on.
I don’t want to spoil much of the plot, because it is simultaneously familiar and unpredictable. It has many of the crime movie plot points we all know and love, but it is also creative, unique, and original. It’s both grounded and unrealistic, or rather, it inhabits a heightened reality, much like music does. It maintains many genre tropes, while also exaggerating, subverting, enhancing, and/or reordering them. It’s self-aware, too, but only a little, and perfectly.
Baby (Elgort) is obsessed with music, remixing conversations he finds interesting, and, especially, driving fast. But he’s not a hardened criminal. He’s a getaway driver for Doc (Spacey), but he doesn’t want to be. He owes Doc a debt, and Doc requires him to drive, at least until Baby’s paid him back. As for Baby, he’s just biding his time until he can get back to a simpler life with his deaf foster dad (Jones) and Debora (James), the pretty waitress he meets at a diner.
Yet, in Doc‘s mind, leaving the crew isn’t that simple. See, Doc rotates through hired-hand criminals – including Buddy (Hamm), Darling (González), and Bats (Foxx) – but his one constant lately is always Baby. Baby’s his lucky charm. Baby’s fast.
The overall story and plot structure are really good, though they also cause one of the film’s only problems: an ever-so-slight off-throwing in the second and third acts of an otherwise amazing kinetic energy. But the story isn’t necessarily the main focus, although it is, as I said, unique and original.
Oh, there is one other weakness, I suppose, in that a couple characters make decisions for Baby’s sake that seem a little too sudden, drastic, and life-changing, even in Baby Driver‘s world, although those decisions still seem a product of who the characters are as people. Also, the dialogue is not quite as fast, sharp, and witty as Wright’s other films, but it is still all three of those things and miles better than the usual studio drivel, that sort of modern movie talk that appears tailor-made for overseas overdubbing. The dialogue is also very funny and had me laughing heartily at many moments.
The filmmaking on display here is masterclass level. It’s excellent, and I expect nothing less of Edgar Wright. When I heard about this, his pet project, I was excited for his name alone. In the eighteen years since Wright first came to the public’s attention with the much-loved British TV show, Spaced, he has amassed an impressive filmography, writing and directing that Spaced show he created, as well as the movies Shaun of the Dead (tied in my favor for best zombie comedy with Zombieland), Hot Fuzz (a great send-up of action films), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (a whacky, comic-book inspired movie that also has a lot of music), and The World’s End (a drinking/alien invasion romp, sci-fi comedy with perhaps the best movie speech ever against communism and the like). He also famously worked for years with Marvel on Ant-Man before boldly leaving the project because he wanted to make a Marvel movie, but they didn’t really want to make an Edgar Wright movie. If only he had come along after Marvel’s successful trusting of a writer/director’s vision in James Gunn and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Edgar Wright can do no wrong. Well, that’s probably not true, because, as we’ve often seen, any director can do wrong. Suffice it to say, Wright did no wrong with this effort. Baby Driver lived up to all my expectations and exceeded them. This is a nearly perfect movie and the best one I have seen in a long time. So fun, so exciting, so full of life and vigor. So vibrant.
The editing, cinematography, and action choreography lend themselves flawlessly to Wright’s vision of a music-influenced movie. The editing is fast and fluid. The cinematography is fantastic with many long and steady takes, clearly showing us everything while keeping up with the film’s pace and contributing to it. Stunt work is the name of the game, too, and Wright and Co. place as much of the action as possible in-camera, bringing in very little CGI. Everything is plainly laid out so that you understand what is taking place, as well as its space, location, and movement. There’s also some of the best car work I’ve ever seen in a movie, especially with so many normal, everyday cars. Don’t get me wrong, though, some sports cars do make appearances, and they are awesome, like the opening scene’s Subaru WRX and a Dodge Challenger later on.
The acting is all outstanding, and every character was perfectly casted. The most important piece, Elgort sells Baby effortlessly as this innocent kid who accidentally got wrangled into a mess. James is sweet in the role of Elgort’s love interest, but she’s not just some damsel-in-distress. Spacey is Kevin Spacey, and, as always, he does it well. The biggest stand-outs, however, just might be Hamm and Foxx, who get to have a heckuva time simmering, simmering until the moments when they boil over and scald everyone. All these characters could have easily ended up terribly over-the-top, but, instead, they are believable, compelling, and interesting, even when they are crazy.
This is the most satisfyingly exhilarating time I’ve had in a theater for a while, and it’s an experience I would love to revisit again and again.
I’m going to give Baby Driver a 97%.
Edgar Wright has truly cemented his position as one of the best directors working today. I hope his movie here makes a ton, because Baby Driver deserves it.
P.S.: Keep an eye out for a couple cool cameos, one of which is Paul Williams, the famous Muppets composer, who also wrote many pop songs in the ’70s, such as The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” the other of which is a certain well-known bassist, whose turn in the film is more of a bit part, really, than just a cameo.