Baby Driver (2017)
All you need is one killer track.
It’s a shame that, as an action junkie, the only way I can get my kicks these days is via a high concept story, usually a fantasy flick or a tentpole superhero adventure. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of fun with big action blockbusters such as The Fate of the Furious (2017) and Wonder Woman (2017), but I do miss those unapologetically direct ‘everyman’ type action movies that were so prolific in the ’80s and ’90s — think Bruce Willis’ Die Hard (1988) or Robert De Niro’s Ronin (1998).
It should come as no surprise, then, that John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), a no-nonsense guns-a-blazing ride with a minimalist narrative and maximum action, was up there (for me) as one the year’s best genre films. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is similar in its approach, adding to the mix a slice of Americana style ’50s nostalgia that harkens back to an era where teenagers thrived on late-night diners, boppin’ rock music and car culture — when owning a vehicle meant pure unadulterated freedom.
After Wright’s unfortunate departure from Marvel’s Ant-Man (2015), things seemed uncertain for the Brit, chiefly after his last film, the terribly dull The World’s End (2013), failed to make noise at the box office. Thankfully, Wright’s gotten his groove back with this long-gestating car-centric flick — which was originally conceived way back in 1994! See, there’s a lot to enjoy here, so much so that only the most hardened of cynics are likely to be disappointed — it’s just too much fun!
The ride begins when we meet Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young, talented getaway driver in Atlanta, Georgia, working for heist mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey). With a constant ringing of tinnitus in his ears (the repercussion of a car accident that killed his folks), Baby drowns out the outside world with his passion for music — via a large collection of tunes spread out over multiple iPods, depending on his mood. The apple of his eye is a sweet diner waitress, Debora (Lily James), who he’s waiting to woo, once he’s completely paid off his long-standing debt to Doc.
On his last couple of gigs, Baby meets a few colorful characters; Bats (Jamie Foxx), a trigger-happy gangster and a Bonnie and Clyde like duo named Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González). As Baby finally begins to shift away from his criminal life and into something more normal, his kind-hearted, deaf foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) becomes more at ease, all of Baby’s energy now focused on the glowing Debora. Alas, the peace doesn’t last long with Baby finding it difficult to separate the two worlds, Doc suddenly reappearing and threatening his ‘lucky charm’ to take one final job.
Let’s start with the film’s old fashioned romance between Baby and Debora, which could’ve been one of its most grating, clichéd flaws, yet the chemistry between actors Ansel Elgort, Divergent (2014), and Lily James, Cinderella (2015), is always charming, even if their courtship is terribly familiar — but, hey, I guess that’s part of the nostalgia. You see, these two lovestruck ‘kids’ are from another time and belong to a bygone era, one where James Dean graced our screens and Elvis echoed through our airwaves (the pair’s own music tastes, however, are wider than that, stretching to contemporary tracks).
On the flipside to this chaste love affair, is the hot, steady lust of Buddy and Darling — a couple living life on the knife-edge of thrills and spills. Jon Hamm’s Buddy is especially interesting as the film grows to portray his scenario as a kind of alternate future for Baby, this contrasting to Debora’s ‘sweeter than pie’ Southern style, with Darling being pure, unbridled sexuality — a role that Eiza González, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series (2014), fits to a red hot tee. While we’re talking performances, Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained (2012), gets a few zingers as the unhinged Bats, while Kevin Spacey, Horrible Bosses (2011), does his usual understated, dry thing.
The humor didn’t always hit the mark for me personally, but it’s forgivable, seeing as the tone of the movie is just right. Baby is so consumed by music, a little thing he does is carry a mini recorder around so that he can tape conversations, which he later turns into songs — a lo-fi electronica track he compiles called ‘Was He Slow?’ (actually performed by Kid Koala) brought the house down the first time it was played, then again when it was referenced later in the film. In a very direct way, it’s a loving ode to the role that music plays in many of our lives — helping shape our understanding of the world and its people. Surprisingly, Wright isn’t afraid to get a little more serious either, with Baby Driver finishing on a note that somehow manages to have its cake and eat it too.
As one would hope, the action is breezy and well realized; several car chases are peppered throughout the brisk running time, each with a slightly different flavor, courtesy of some killer melodies — one of the funniest moments involves Baby having to stop the goons from exiting their car because they’ve just missed the perfect synchronized moment from his song selection.
Synchronicity as a whole is one of Edgar Wright’s masterful strokes here — aided by film editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), music editor Steven Price, Suicide Squad (2016) and sound design by Julian Slater, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), the entire film, as experienced through Baby’s eyes and ears, is one big musical number, with everything from footsteps to gun shots to slamming doors punctuating the hits and beats of the soundtrack. Experiencing Baby Driver in a pimped-up cinema should exemplify the phenomenal work for a truly unique approach to sound, second to that would be hitting up a drive-in for a perfect date night.
Overall, with a slick rhythm, brilliant stunts and choreography, fun tone and a carefully curated jukebox soundtrack that’ll rival the best of ‘em, Baby Driver is pure action movie bliss. Don’t hesitate to take this baby out for a spin.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Steve Ramsie