Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzales, Jon Bernthal
Plot: Baby (Elgort) is a fast car loving getaway driver who is blackmailed into working for some dangerous people.
Let’s be honest, the start of most Edgar Wright films involve the audience struggling to get up to speed with the tone of the film. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World took a full half an hour for most of the audience to figure out what the film was trying to be. Even the Cornetto trilogy offers a new style of comedy that needs a few moments to register. In many ways, Baby Driver is going to be that for most people. The film’s opening minute sets up a stock Hollywood scenario. A car full of nasty people (Bernthal, Hamm, Gonzales and Elgort’s getaway driver, Baby), pull up to a bank, pull out shotguns and don ski masks. You don’t need any moment of hesitation to figure out where this first scene is going. As the robbers get out of the car and leave Baby behind the wheel, ready for a quick getaway, Baby turns up the song on the radio, (Jon Spencer Blues Explosion- Bellbottoms). Then we get the Edgar Wright madness kick in as Elgort launches into a pitch perfect lip sync of the words, complete with air guitaring, using his own head as a drum and timing the windscreen wipers to move with the beat.
It might take a few moments to figure out what the hell Wright has up his sleeve, but it is an essential ingredient to this picture. Baby Driver shares a few similarities with some modern popular movies. The easy comparison to make is Drive, as the story features a loner getaway driver falling in love and being caught in a life of crime, but there are also plenty of shades of Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, a misplaced rogue with a fondness of music and a pining for his dead mother. The narrative, while likely to go off on a tangent involving explosions and head shots, echoes several films that came before. However, as is common with Edgar Wright, the originality comes in how he tells the story. While Drive had Ryan Gosling a dour fellow who bore the weight of his actions on his shoulders, this first scene sets Elgort up to be the polar opposite. He is a young man with a remarkable lust for life. While flashes back to his mother’s untimely death show the pain hidden in his eyes, he doesn’t let that slow down his enthusiasm. It’s the smaller flashy scenes that usually a director would race through to get to the interesting sub-villains, but Edgar Wright uses to hammer home Baby’s character. He makes toast for his ageing step-father, while dancing on the kitchen tiles. Elgort made everyone fall head over heels in love with him in Fault in Our Stars. He looks so vulnerable at a first glance, but there is hardness to Augustus Waters that surprises. It is the same with Baby, although in a new way, proving that Wright’s left-field casting choice was actual a very smart gamble. It also helps the love angle take off, Elgort falling back onto his natural romantic lead origins. Some have criticised the lack of meat on the bones of this fledging romance. Lily James is a few cliches, stitched together, threatening to have depth, but sadly little more than a plot device to kick-start Baby’s quest for redemption. However, for those willing to buy past the hasty writing of their bond, you can just sink into the stars’ chemistry and let their connection warm your hearts. Lily James adds a spark to Deborah, her eyes shining with alluring hope and an upbeat grin. She is the kind of girl you can only find in the movies, awkward flirting attempts and premature declarations of love only making her more attached to you, rather than running for the hills. But it is the honesty for Elgort’s falling for her, the body language oozing from him, when he is with her. When the quiet boy begins to stand up for what he believes in, you know it is all down to her.
But we are all here for the gangsters, aren’t we? Baby Driver is the kind of movie where the supporting cast are allowed to come alive. Baby’s character arc has the pleasing side-effect of being able to burn quietly in the background, so when he is building up to a emotional high point, the supporting cast can step in and take over scene-chewing. Kevin Spacey plays the stock Spacey role of menacing patriarch. He covers familiar beats, his House of Cards performance putting parts like this to shame, but he hardly lets the team down with fantastic one-liners and being able to use dry delivery on lines that make your hairs stand on end. Wright’s dialogue is superb here, the kind of fantasy wordplay you could get in a Tarantino movie. No one speaks like this, but man, we wish they did! The robbers are perhaps a tad more fun than Spacey, the actors diving into bonkers roles that you can see each actor here urging their agent to get for them. Jon Hamm is the quietly menacing Buddy, warm-hearted when he needs to be, but a cold killer when the moment calls (and by god, does it call?!) His partner in crime, Darling, played by Dusk Till Dawn’s Eiza Gonzales, is a purring sociopath, sweetly whispering compliments into her lover’s ear, before demanding her kill someone for her. Meanwhile Jamie Foxx takes the killer role he does well and ramps it up to a ten, creating a psychotic monster of a villain, and someone who causes much tension to the picture as a whole. But while the cast are all worth showering in compliments, like most of his work, you feel that this is Edgar Wright gluing the pieces together. Baby Driver is yet again another masterpiece from the famed director. He puts these characters into a boiling point and the second half of the movie is a nail-biting stew of tension. We know the bad things are going to happen promptly, but there are so many angles for them to come from, we have no idea where to expect the next shock from. The final third sees Wright take the unorthodox option, which leaves Baby Driver hurtling for a ‘bananas’ finale. And yes, the finale is a wonderful display of carnage and brilliance, but there is so much before worth complimenting. The soundtrack is more than some nifty songs clamped together Guardians of the Galaxy style to appease fans, but important foot-notes in Baby’s life. They are either clues at his hidden past, recurring gags that brighten the end or themes to help the audience realise where the next scene is headed. It is difficult not to adore the opening credits which sees sections of the lyrics etched into the world around Baby pop up, as the music blasts out. Best of all is the editing to the music. Cars screech in time with the beat, guns fire in sync… one moment sees Ansel Elgort look up intensely in time with the music, the smallest of moments, yet one that screams Best Editing OSCAR later in the year.
Final Verdict: Edgar Wright rarely makes the same film twice and Baby Driver, while miles away from his previous work, retains that stamp of undeniable quality.