Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm
1 hr. 53 mins.
Baby Driver depends on one of the oldest premises in filmmaking: Bad guy wants to be a good guy. In this case it’s Baby (Ansel Elgort) who has been forced to be the getaway driver for bank robber extraordinaire Doc (Kevin Spacey).
When you’re recreating a classic theme, you had better be clever and the bad guy/good guy had better be sympathetic. In both cases, British director and screenwriter Edgar Wright succeeds.
The creator of what’s known as the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End) barrels his way through the streets of Atlanta and into numerous parking garages, usually with the cops in pursuit. By the time he arrives, you’re bouncing to his rhythm.
The film opens with a bank heist followed by a car chase that is worthy of a Fast and Furious comparison, except that there are no jettisons, drops from airplanes or other highwire stunts. Baby is strictly a driver who’s got great reflexes. Call him a minimalist. He doesn’t leave his seat until the job (and the song) are done.
He also has tinnitus (ringing of the ears), which he suffers as a victim of his parents’ deadly car crash. He rarely talks, but he does have other talents, including lip reading, sign language with his foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) and a photographic memory. He also owns multiple iPods filled with music to match his moods.
Baby works for Doc to pay off a personal debt. Meantime, at a local joint called Bo’s Diner, he meets a sweet-faced waitress named Debora (Lily James) and falls hard. Baby must now balance being in love with working in a dangerous profession.
Doc is the fast-talking, chalk-drawing boss who picks his gang as he picks his heists, but Baby is always his driver.
In a cruel twist, after Baby pays his debt, Doc forces him to choose between doing one last job and protecting his girl. The heist includes Bats (Jamie Foxx), who doesn’t like Baby and is not much for following directions. Paired up with trigger-happy Buddy (Jon Hamm) and his snarky wife, Darling (Eiza González), there’s bound to be trouble in Peach City.
Sounds like fun, but Wright has a more serious path in mind. Yes, there’s humor, but it’s blended with lots of darkness. The cameras create snappy angles and hot action, lively dance and even some sweetness, but it’s not in the same vein as his previous films. Like the vehicles that crash, Baby Driver is built to have a violent impact.
It’s as if Wright, with his reputation for comedy and action, is bent on reinventing himself as a nimble English dramatist. There’s a lot of repartee between the characters, but it’s not empty-headed. Wright is taking us on an adventure that starts breezy but ends up twisted in bloody wreckage. No one in this film escapes the consequences of their actions.
What’s more, it’s all attached to Wright’s personal soundtracks. Baby Driver is choreographed to his play list. Matching motion to song, particularly with Baby, it’s like watching a long music video with spaced intervals for dialogue and action. Edit it all together and you have a visual symphony of the legacy of soul and rock built into the film’s DNA. And in case you’re wondering, yes, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver” is included.
In simple terms, Baby Driver is fun to watch. It’s not really a comedy, but it’s lively and witty, dark and demented. Put it together and it’s got classic written all over it, literally and metaphorically. And yet, it doesn’t feel Shakespearean. More like the old Go-Go’s song “We Got the Beat.” Not included in this soundtrack, but could have fit, if Wright had asked me. That kind of vibe. Foot to the pedal. Cue “Bellbottoms.” Gas it.