Every time I get behind the steering wheel of my car, I have this compulsive ritual where I queue up a track on my playlist, wait for that specific minute/second moment and then…. Ignition! You know.
The bass thumps, the drums rumble and my foot gets heavier on the accelerator. The tyres cut in to the road, the wind tears across the bonnet. My nerves jangle as I watch the speedometer fly to all of 30mph, stuck behind a tractor, trying to look like a badass to Paul Simon’s ‘You can call me Al’ vibrating the windows.
Substantially less pathetic than my attempts at cinematic montages, is Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. The mastermind Director and Writer behind the modern classics Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (to name a few). Fans have high expectations for new offerings, given the success of the aforementioned titles, and it’s safe to say the man has done it again.
The story is that of the troubled but charming, young lead character Baby (Ansel Elgort), and his involvement in an organised crime group headed up by Doc (Kevin Spacey). A past debt looms over Baby, which Doc exploits, knowing that he needs Baby as a remarkable getaway driver to score his seriously big paydays.
Baby remains the ‘kid’ of the group, with the other members either belittling or patronising him despite his abilities to keep them safe and away from the long arm of the law. He says little, his earphones are always in and Baby always seems in a different world.
Baby finds himself looking for an escape from his deviant life, wanting to settle his score and find meaning in his troubled existence. This is where Debora (Lily James) swirls into his world. The two instantly spark up a romance and Baby sees an escape to a better life with the girl of his dreams by his side.
But as we all know very well by now- “just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in…”.
From the opening car chase sequence (which is inevitably going to inspire some late night drifting sessions in supermarket car parks) to the films’ edge-of-your seat finale, Baby Driver is an utter thrill of a joyride.
A film of this punchy storyline and production values is at danger of losing the characters behind in the tyre smoke and burning debris, but this is what makes Baby Driver a cut amongst the rest.
The plot is enriched with wholesome, unique characters. With typical Edgar Wright fashion, there exists a subtle comic book edge to each one, and the performances are strong enough to keep the film riveting and a whole bag of fun.
The often comical frustration of Doc overseeing his band of crooks is like a joyless tutor overseeing a group of uninterested college kids, reminiscent of John Hughes’ Breakfast Club. Spacey is reliable on-screen as always, and his almost parental watch over Baby is bizarrely nurturing as it is corrupt.
“The often comical frustration of Doc overseeing his band of crooks is like a joyless tutor overseeing a group of uninterested college kids, reminiscent of John Hughes’ Breakfast Club.”
The crooks all shine with individuality. Buddy (Jon Hamm) is suave and cool but like a bomb waiting to blow, and the almost comedic, Joker and Harley Quinn-esque relationship with his main squeeze Darling (Eliza Gomez) is a sassy addition to the crew, further adding depth to the on screen mayhem. The stakes go up with the introduction of resident psycho, Bats (Jamie Foxx). His ‘Shere Khan’ style stalking over the other cast members is menacing as it is suffocating.
Although Buddy and Darling take on a big brother and sister role to Baby, Bats is like the big bully, always suspicious of him, and as the audience you want to protect Baby from his antagonistic inquisition.
It’s a wonderfully dysfunctional family, and the film does well in making us feel protective over Baby in those crew scenes by day, but contrasting this, are the heart-warming scenes where he returns home to his deaf foster father Joseph (CJ Jones). The two have a hilarious connection, as Baby teasingly takes care of him, unconvincingly reassuring him that his misdemeanours will soon come to an end.
When Debora drifts elegantly into Baby’s life, the on-screen spark between the two is sweet and naive, adding a further layer of endearment for the characters. He speaks to her, where he is silent with the others. He smiles like he means it. The two ignite a classical celluloid romance, which adds just the right level of emotion and leave you rooting harder for Baby to achieve a better life with Debora, completely free of his past demons.
Ultimately Wright does a stellar job of creating a new on-screen hero. Baby appears like a modern-day James Dean on the big screen, and no doubt Ansel Elgorts will be an actor to pay attention to in the future.
So what about the action? Second to absolute none. This is a car-chase/heist film. If you like this genre, you will be left jumping up and down on your seat. If you don’t, you’ll be clinging to it in excitement.
The chase scenes are smart, with razor precision choreography resulting in car-ballet of the highest excitement. The heist scenes brim with tension, but almost like Baby and his extraordinary abilities as a driver, you as the audience passively adopt his fun-loving, almost blasé confidence that he will get the crew out of a tight spot to success. Each successful job further builds up your pity for Baby, as he is relegated to fetching the morning coffees for the crew- a thankless existence.
Baby Driver feels big and brash at times, don’t get me wrong, but still like a cult-classic, and there is a very poignant reason for this- The soundtrack is utterly incredible.
This film is built on a foundation of really, really good music. It feels like the movie is woven intricately into the soundtrack, with each scene executed to the beat, the bridges, the sweeps and the melody from the sounds of The Beach Boys, Carla Thomas, The Damned, Run The Jewels, Martha Reeves & The Vandelles, etc, etc… The list is bullet proof. Just the opening of the film backed by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is a style-laden and progressive stroke of genius that only Edgar Wright could pull off (apparently an idea he thought up for a chase scene many, many, years ago). The plot-line of Baby’s constant wearing of headphones, of which we hear his music, helps to further justify the heavy involvement of soundtrack as it integrates into the film for a specific plot reason. And I use the word integrate because each track never feels obligatory or clichéd. It jigsaw pieces into each scene like it has a purpose.
Altogether, this is an undeniably brilliant movie. Comic, violent, touching, turbo-charged and with a serious dance in its step, Baby Driver is another Wright triumph. Start your engines, stay sharp.
(Note- Drive safe afterwards, since I was severely chastised by my Mrs after leaving the cinema in a wheel-spinning frenzy in her Skoda Fabia).