Movie Review: Baby Driver
From the fast-paced, stylized mind of director Edgar Wright, whose unique brand of action-comedy films have set the gold standard for the ever-evolving genre, comes his latest feature in Baby Driver. As off-beat and zany as his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, with a diverse cast of talent at the wheel, while Wright's latest might not drift into any revolutionary realm of storytelling, his dynamic flavor of quick-cut, thematic filmmaking elevates this simple crime caper to an adrenaline-rush of a good time.
For highly-skilled getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort), driving is child's play as long as he's got a thundering beat pounding through his eardrums. Drowning out the horrors of his childhood through music, his unique profession allows him a complicated but refreshing escape. Working under a corrupt kingpin (Kevin Spacey) who keeps him on a tight leash, Baby does his job and keeps his mouth shut. For the most part, things go smoothly; that is, until things get personal. After taking up a job with a new crew -- including the impulsive, motor-mouthed "Bats" (Jamie Foxx) and a pair of star-crossed bank robbers with a knack for the dramatic (Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez), Baby soon gets in over his head as his personal life begins to bleed into his professional one. Putting the lives of his deaf foster father and his new love interest (Lily James) at risk, Baby must face the music as he pulls off one more adrenaline-fueled heist.
While 2015's Ant-Man might have partially slipped through his fingers after leaving the project because of creative differences, the imprint of Edgar Wright's flamboyant method of storytelling can still be evident in the superhero heist film. From the clever wit of Paul Rudd's deadpan protagonist to Michael Pena's brilliant play-by-play, the film, while ultimately under the wing of director Peyton Reed, was on some level or another the fantastic baby of Edgar Wright and his collaborators. Reeling us in with another heist caper, this time shelving the superpowers for music-infused street racing, Wright seemed to be in full-rein of Baby Driver, a film that while a bit less franchise-building as Ant-Man, contained the similar beats of a competent crime-caper comedy.
While I certainly couldn't call myself the biggest fan of Edgar Wright in the world, as I've only seen two-thirds of the infamous Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy -- including Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and 2013's The World's End -- and forgotten much of his 2010 knock-out Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I do still hold a deep appreciation for his phenomenal technique of filmmaking. Able to piece together often odd-ball or outrageous stories into coherent fastballs of brilliant comedic direction, Wright has mastered the complex balance of whimsical action and smart and riveting hilarity. While there might be very little that could touch his collaborations with actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as producer Nira Park, Wright's latest in Baby Driver came crashing in with equally dramatic and ill-advised intent.
So what, you may ask, makes Baby Driver so great? Well, aside from being a pretty impressive and unexpected return for Wright, it was the film's intriguing pitch that really sold me on the caper. Telling of a talented driver with a deep attachment to music, tossed into the deadly realm of bank heists and gun violence, with a slew of grisly yet poignant characters at his back, Baby Driver shifted into a gear all its own to try to deliver something unique. Yes, while the premise of a driver emotionally tormented by his past might not be purely original (2011's Drive, anyone?), it was the promise of Wright's swift directing and the film's fluent music-themed action that drew me into Baby Driver.
Before I delve into the film's radiant action sequences and Wright's direction, another element that drew me to the project was its cast. With the baby-faced Fault in Our Stars alum Ansel Elgort leading the show with his tight-lipped driver, the rest of the cast delivered memorable performances, each offering up something different to the narrative. Even as they rode the risk of becoming genre stereotypes, the cast evolved throughout the film to such a degree that you never really knew what they might do next. While Lily James' love interest in Debra may not have elevated above more than a Southern sweetheart, and Kevin Spacey's slimy kingpin was nothing compared to Frank Underwood of House of Cards, the always-promising Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm were convincing-enough criminals to keep the wheels turning.
The effective performances of the film's cast were flourished even further, of course, by the film's writing and directing. With Wright's signature toss-up of thematic storytelling weaving the crime-caper together swimmingly, the film drifted along at a pace that never seemed to dull. While its romantic plot points might have aimed to drag the film into familiar genre cliches, the rapid direction by Wright never let the story idle too long on its weaker elements. Whisked away quickly by action scenes set to the likes of Queen and The Commodores, Baby Driver revved its engine through stylized action and the smart, quippy writing we've come to know from Wright.
In the words of gun-totting crook "Bats" played by Jamie Foxx in the film: "You don't need a score to score." In the case of Baby Driver, its score might be its most vital aspect. From its simmering musical score by composer Steven Price to its more-prominent soundtrack of a hefty handful of diverse and distinct artists, the music of Baby Driver, as I mentioned before, was more or less the heart of the story. With iPod in hand and headphones glued to the eardrums of Elgort's Baby, right from the start, the film told us to shut up and pay attention -- and more importantly, listen. With nearly every action scene -- well, possibly every scene in the film -- synced up to some beat or another, the film pulsed with energy as each song began. Spanning genres and decades, from T. Rex to Simon & Garfunkel, the film's music latched itself to the film's fluent direction and never let go.
Overall, in a film that slammed on the gas right from the start to deliver a fast-paced action-thriller with a convincing-enough premise, Baby Driver was a welcomed return for writer-director Edgar Wright with a promising pay-off. Whether this film spawns one sequel or more, as a single, pulse-pounding unit, it speeds past the likes of dull, romantic comedies and blasphemous car-themed blockbusters like Fast & Furious to deliver one of the most entertaining films of the year so far.
I gave Baby Driver a 7 out of 10, because even when as it hit a few potholes with its formulaic romantic endeavors and third-act shoot-outs, Edgar Wright's latest was a competent action-thriller with a heartbeat full of masterful direction and one hot-blooded soundtrack.