Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Jon Hamm
Running time: 113 minutes
Since he was young, talented getaway driver, Baby (Elgort), has been the man behind the wheel for local kingpin Doc (Spacey); driving to the beats of his eclectic music taste to help drown out the tinnitus from a childhood tragedy. When he meets fellow music-fanatic waitress Debora (James), a road out of the criminal life presents itself; one not without its share of blood-shed, however.
Ever wondered what it would be like to sit through a 2-hour music video?
Yea, me neither. That is, until I sat down to Edgar Wright’s newest, coolest, toe-tappingiest outing yet: Baby Driver. His inaugural feature as both writer and director, the result is basically what you would’ve got had Mad Max remembered to sync his iTunes playlist to the War Rig and not ignored that left turn to Atlanta. It’s loud, slick, and stupendously entertaining.
Quite unlike anything you’re likely to see any time soon, Baby Driver plays firmly by its own rules. Wright has no time for supporting artists here, and instead launches straight in with the headline act. The opening minutes of Baby Driver – a kick-ass, nought-to-one-hundred-in-seconds car chase scene set to Bellbottoms, choregraphed right down to the windscreen wipers – sets the bar high; taking Drive’s uber cool introduction and raising it twenty-fold. And in doing so, it’s apparent almost immediately that Wright has been given total and unconditional creative freedom this time round, and boy are we sure glad he has.
It’s here we also meet our titular hero. Handbraking his way down back alleys and into our hearts instantaneously, Baby fits the generic gangster type about as well as Drax does Rocket’s clobber. He’s quiet, a tad dorkish, makes homemade cassettes from criminal ramblings, cares for his deaf foster father, ‘Pops’, and is under constant scrutiny from his fellow crew members. BUT, crucially, he’s one helluva driver, and while his substantial iPod collection and his shade-wearing, headphone-listening demeanour distances him from the last people you’d want to think you were suspicious, his ability behind the wheel and music taste is unquestionable. Despite his tinnitus and aggressive protests from those around him, in Baby’s world, his ears are essentially his second pair of eyes.
Stylistically, this is located somewhere between Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim. As one might expect from anything with Wright’s name on it, the editing is razor sharp and the sound production a joy, as the film’s first half thrusts us from set piece to set piece. Along the way we are introduced to the more familiar criminal types in Jamie Foxx’s ‘Bats’, Eiza González’s ‘Darling’, and Jon Hamm’s ‘Buddy’ (all shaded just the right colour of humorous cliché), as well as hints to Baby’s tragic past that gives Wright’s main man an interesting and welcomed fragility and vulnerability. Other than such characterisation, the film’s first half showing puts plot firmly in the back seat. Car chase follows car chase in a story that, ironically, feels like it’s going nowhere, save for sending us away to go and re-boot our first-gen iPods. That’s because this is the film to finally loosen Guardians of the Galaxy’s firm grip on the title of coolest soundtrack in recent memory. From Barry White to T-Rex to Simon and Garfunkel (and of course a bit of Queen thrown in there for good measure), this is the type of eclectic playlist that will surely give Spotify and its listeners a total meltdown. But here the music isn’t just selected because, well, you know, it sounds pretty funky. No, no, the music here has a far more important function: it dictates the rhythm of the visuals throughout, playing out in fabulous synchronisation that is audio-visual acid – and what a trip it is.
Something that resembles plot inevitably begins to take shape once Baby meets the equally quirky, awkward love-interest, Debora. Partial to a playlist herself, Debora shares in Baby’s desire to get away from the getaway life and start afresh. Like him, she too has demons of the past, but these are only nodded at in passing. But, of course, as anyone who’s seen a Scorsese movie knows all too well, the criminal life rarely lets you go that easily, and Baby Driver is certainly no exception. Through all the playful build-up, Wright’s bark is unequivocally matched by his bite. Going full Neo-Western on us in the final third, Baby Driver’s deafening, intense finale is as deliciously and ludicrously ferocious as our showdown in Sandford, Gloucestershire, almost a decade ago.
If there is one overarching flaw in Wright’s formula, however, it’s neatly summarised in Debora’s assessment of Baby that, “Every song is about you”. Indicative of Baby Driver more widely, Wright seems concerned almost exclusively with his Ansel Elgort shaped centre piece. Kevin Spacey, with limited screen time in a film that is perhaps a few post-climax scenes too long, brings his usual unhinged likeability to a criminal overlord interchangeable between surrogate father and menacing crime lord. Debora is frustratingly underdeveloped; and Jon Hamm gets delightfully deranged as his narrative importance grows. But, for all its cinematic VROOM VROOM, Baby Driver fails to have enough character ZOOM ZOOM.
Not quite the masterpiece many critics are hailing it as, Baby Driver is nevertheless a brilliantly enjoyable cinematic experience. It screams cult-classic, and you’re guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face, a skip in your step, and more than a few songs stuck in your head!