Baby Driver feels like the complete culmination of writer/director Edgar Wright’s career.
And while I hope that the sky continues to be the limit for him, it fits quite nicely as the current masterpiece of his filmography. His first feature since the completion of the cult-favorite “Cornetto Trilogy”, one might expect a sense of familiarity and a continuation of that trilogy’s oeuvre. While there are some familiar signature strokes in the film, Baby Driver is very much its own animal.
Right from the moment we enter Baby’s world, the film is a delight.
He sits as getaway driver for a heist at the helm of a 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX (an usual choice for what ends up being an unusual film), jamming out to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. He’s strumming on the steering wheel, with windshield wipers going in sync with the song. It’s when his accomplices jump in and they make their escape that we learn that this wasn’t just a fun, quirky way to introduce the character. This is where he lives. Due to a hearing impairment, music is how he feels and navigates the world, with iPod buds perpetually lodged in his ears. It’s as essential to him as air or water.
What follows is a sensory experience that verges on overload, but smirks at you as it deftly walks that line.
Rife with incredible sound and music editing, it swaggers to the likes of The Commodores, Incredible Bongo Band and Martha Reeves. A jaunt to the coffee shop, a high-speed car chase through downtown Atlanta, wild gunfights and even conversations with his partners in crime are all not only accented by, but orchestrated through music in Baby’s perception. And due to some excellent character crafting and world building, it never once feels like a gimmick.
The film’s tight screenplay is strengthened and elevated by a cast well-versed in crackling dialogue.
Kevin Spacey, John Hamm and Jamie Foxx round out the top-billing, and bring a joyfulness in working on such an energetic film. The film’s story moves along at a brisk, boundlessly enthusiastic pace. Front and center is Ansel Elgort as Baby, a recent refugee of the defunct Divergent franchise who’s about to find himself in the spotlight. Elgort tackles Baby with a cool Southern drawl and the confidence of the classic movie badasses his character is meant to emulate. An early tracking shot down an Atlanta street (one of the aforementioned signatures in an Edgar Wright piece) cements Elgort’s coolness and ability as a physical performer, and he continues to impress from then on. The kid’s going places, fast (pun intended).
Not least of the supporting cast is Lily James who plays Baby’s love interest, Debora.
James is effortlessly adorable in the role. While some claim the romance on screen is threadbare, it’s easy to see why these two young kids would fall in love and hold on as tensions ramp to explosive levels. He’s mysterious and stoic with a hint of vulnerability, and she’s beautiful and kind and first catches his eye – or rather, ear – through music. It’s an old-school-cool movie romance that hearkens back to its roots in 1960s and 70s car and heist films.
There’s a staggeringly-high level of talent on display in each aspect of the film.
Bill Pope shoots the hell out of everything, and he and Wright are one of my favorite director/photographer combos working today. The two developed a kinetic energy with The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim Versus The World, and here it’s cranked to eleven. Their partnership has never been more sharp.
The film’s editing and sound are exquisitely clever, and are virtually characters in the film, in their own right. The care and attention to detail both receive are fantastic, and equally as subtle as they are bombastic. Case in point lies in early scene, where one of Baby’s earbuds is yanked out. Instead of cutting the music from the right channels to match what’s on screen, the film cuts it from the left; the film never forgets that we see and hear this world through Baby’s eyes and ears. It’s filled to the brim with careful and clever film making, but never once it does it tap you on the shoulder and ask if you caught what just happened.