Baby Driver, 2017.
Directed by Edgar Wright.
Starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Eiza González.
A young getaway driver yearns to break free from the clutches of a local crime boss and start a new life on the road with his waitress girlfriend.
As I sat down to watch Baby Driver, something occurred to me ? even though I’m a big fan of Edgar Wright, each of his films has, in my opinion, been weaker than the last. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are both classics, as clever and inventive as they are hilarious; Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, as cool as it is, occasionally crosses the line between ironic hipster movie and actual hipster movie; and despite giving it several chances to grow on me I didn’t like The World’s End at all. As the lights went down I crossed my fingers that this would be the film to buck that trend, and I’m happy to report that it most certainly is.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a job he performs as payback for breaking into Doc’s car as a teenager. He has tinnitus in his ears from the car accident his parents died in when he was a child, so he constantly has his headphones in to drown it out. This has led to a habit of sound-tracking everything he does, whether it’s a high-speed car chase or a stroll down the street to fetch coffee (which he does in a great long take where the lyrics to the song he’s listening to appear as graffiti on the buildings behind him). With his debt to Doc soon to be paid off he plans to go on a permanent road trip with an adorable waitress called Debora (Lily James), but Doc isn’t about to let his lucky charm get away so easy.
Edgar Wright has admitted that he wrote the script around the playlist of songs he had in mind, and although for some directors this technique can result in lazy film-making (Cameron Crowe is occasionally guilty of this), in Wright’s case it has resulted in a film packed with gloriously choreographed scenes – in the same way that Scott Pilgrim could be considered a ‘fight-sical’, this could easily be described as a ‘chase-sical’! It’s got the coolness of Drive (and an undeniably similar premise) and the energy, wit and (yes) romance of True Romance. The influence of Wright’s pal Tarantino is clear – the characters are all too-cool-for-school, the violence is stylishly shot, and the dialogue is full of quotable one-liners (my favourite involves a ‘HATE’ tattoo that one of Doc’s criminals had changed to ‘HAT’ to improve his job prospects – “Who doesn’t like hats?”). The only scene where the dialogue feels forced and silly is one where a gun salesman compares his products to pigs, but at least it’s followed by a superb shoot-out.
Baby Driver has been billed first and foremost as a car chase movie, and people who go to see it expecting nothing more than that will definitely be satisfied – Paul Greengrass should really watch this film and take notes on how to effectively shoot and edit a great car chase. And Wright’s love of the original Point Break (as witnessed in Hot Fuzz) is once again illustrated in an exhilarating foot chase that rivals the one in Bigelow’s classic. However, this is so much more than a disposable popcorn movie – the characters are what keep you invested when the action dies down. Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey are both excellent, playing characters similar to the ones they played in Horrible Bosses (albeit more deadly and confident), Jon Hamm veers between laid-back and desperate to great effect, and despite being little more than the ‘dream girl’, Lily James still shines as Debora. The scenes where she and Baby fall in love discussing classic songs with their names in the titles are just the right side of cutesy, and their chemistry gives the audience a real reason to root for them. The only character who I felt was a little bit lacking was Baby himself – he’s certainly an iconic character (his black and white costume giving us a glimpse of what might have been had Ansel Elgort been cast as the young Han Solo), but his trademark silence means he’s more defined by his actions than his words – not necessarily a bad thing, it just means he doesn’t get as many memorable one-liners as some of the other characters.
The final third of the film, involving a bungled heist and a hostage situation, is both exciting and unpredictable, as everyone has to either flee or fight for survival. It’s exciting and unpredictable, but admittedly there were a few moments where the characters’ actions stretched believability – i.e. there were sudden shifts in loyalty, and opportunities not being seized. Also, I felt the epilogue was a strange combination of realistic and unrealistic – not quite the euphoric air-punching finale I was hoping for after two hours of build-up. Still, it shows that Wright cares enough about his main characters to see their story through, rather than to cheapen the whole affair with a flashy yet hollow ending. Minor niggles aside, Baby Driver is still one of the most purely entertaining films of the year – a return to form from one of the world’s coolest film-makers.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★★