It would be a mistake to think of “Baby Driver” as only a heist movie with a lot of impressive car chases. This new film from acclaimed British director Edgar Wright completely reinvents the genre, just as he did with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” While the film boasts an all-star cast (Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm), it’s “Baby” (played by the baby-faced Ansel Elgort) who really steals the show – and quite possibly, your heart.
Any movie featuring lots of outrageously choreographed car chases has to be an action-thriller, right? Think carefully before you answer that question because director Edgar Wright has something else in mind. Baby is an accomplished getaway driver who steers to the beat of his own playlist. Music is his whole life, the unfortunate result of an event in his youth that went terribly wrong. With constant music pulsating in his ears, he hardly ever takes his earbuds out.
And so the music that we hear in the film is the music that Baby hears. And this it what makes “Baby Driver” more of a musical than a thriller. Getaway scenes are beautifully choreographed, almost balletic in quality, as cars merge and exit out of traffic gracefully. We sense the rhythm of life around Baby, and understand how and why he moves. This movie couldn’t exist without the beginning-to-end music. Even snatches of conversations turn into mini-rap verses that we hear from Baby’s perspective. Language, indeed, is lyrical and beautiful, even when spoken by gangsters and thugs.
In most Hollywood summer blockbusters, the real heroes are all the CGI effects. It’s almost as if the heroes can’t be larger than life unless they are doing impossible things that are only possible to create using a computer. But that’s not the case with “Baby Driver,” which has a phenomenal cast of characters. It’s harder to tell good from evil here, mostly because everyone seems a little bit damaged.
Take Baby, for example. He’s the “good guy,” but not in the typical mold of a Hollywood good guy. He wants out of this heist plan, especially after he meets the woman of his dreams (Debora, played by Lily James). But there’s a lot of complicated thinking that’s going on inside Baby’s head. He’s in love with Debora, but there’s some serious childhood trauma and “mommy issues” going on inside his head.
Oh, and what’s with the need to keep the earbuds in all the time? The people around him don’t know quite what to make of him. It’s unnerving how he can seem to keep his cool, even when everything seems to be breaking down around him.
Among the bad guys, it’s impossible not to be mesmerized by the acting of Kevin Spacey. He’s cold, bloodless and ruthless. At one point, he hints that he’ll kill everyone who’s near and dear to Baby, but he does it in the same way that someone might recite a shopping list. He’s ice-cold, and you don’t want to mess with him.
The character of Buddy (played by Jon Hamm) also stands out. He’s a member of the heist crew, but also has a complicated back story that involves drugs and crime. The more we learn about him, the more we see his life fading into a haze of drugs. Or take the example of Jamie Foxx’s character, Bats. He’s got a major chip on his shoulder, and views his crime sprees as a form of cosmic righteousness: he’s only getting what he already deserves.
We’ve seen this story before – the “damaged” good guy trying to get out from his criminal ways before it’s too late – but Edgar Wright puts a new spin on this theme. We’re not seeing an aged Hollywood film star, past his prime. Instead, we’re seeing someone so baby-faced and so young (Ansel Elgort) that the romance angle takes on a new quality. This is someone who is falling in love for the first time. And just as any first love is dizzying, confusing and intoxicating, so is this first love for Debora
At times, it seems like the only thing that Baby and Debora have in common is music. So cool and confident when behind the wheel of a getaway car, Baby is surprisingly awkward and clumsy as he tries to figure out his romance with Debora. And, making things even more difficult, he can’t exactly tell Debora what he does for a living. The closest thing he can tell her is that he’s a “driver.”
So far, viewer reaction to “Baby Driver” – which just appeared in cinemas on June 28 – has been off-the-charts. On IMDb, the film has a rating of 8.5/10.0, and on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 97% freshness rating. It’s clear that the film is resonating deeply with audiences, but why? You could just point to the music, but that would be too easy.
Just as Edgar Wright reinvented the whole zombie genre with “Shaun of the Dead,” he seems to be reinventing the criminal thriller movie. He’s taking the same standard elements we already recognize – damaged heroes, beautiful girls, car chases and shady mobsters – and re-mixing them in new ways.
There’s something about the movie that makes it stand out – it’s fresh, hip and cool. At a time where all of us walk around with music playing on our phones, the idea of making this film a giant wall-to-wall soundtrack is brilliant. And, at a time when audiences are starting to tire of all the over-the-top car chases made possible by CGI (yes, “Fast and Furious,” we’re talking about you), there’s something authentic and even artisanal about all the scenes from “Baby Driver.”
If you’re looking for an inspiring, action-packed film to watch this summer, you simply need to see “Baby Driver.” It’s easily one of 2017’s best films.