Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx
Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Sony Pictures Releasing International
Official Website: http://www.babydriver-movie.com
Opening Day: 20 July 2017
Synopsis: A talented, young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. When he meets the girl of his dreams (Lily James), Baby sees a chance to ditch his criminal life and make a clean getaway. But after being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), he must face the music when a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.
‘Baby Driver’ kicks into fifth gear right from the get-go with a breathlessly exciting six-minute getaway chase that is just about the coolest sequence we’ve seen all summer. As he waits for his consorts – Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Griff (Jon Bernthal) – across the street from the bank they are robbing, our eponymous wheelman Baby (Ansel Elgort) cues up the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s guitars/ snare/ strings punk symphony ‘Bellbottoms’, firing up his Subaru Impreza WRX STI once they emerge with their bags of cash from the building. What follows is an exquisitely choreographed cat-and-mouse with numerous police cars in hot pursuit around downtown Atlanta, the feints, double-backs and climactic shell game involving identical red Subarus devised with lock-step precision.
Welcome to the vehicular-action-heist-thriller-jukebox-musical-romance from the mind of writer-director Edgar Wright, who after two decades finally developed his lightning bolt of an idea conceived while sitting in the bedroom of his North London flat. Pop culture enthusiasts would know Wright best for his Cornetto trilogy – namely, 2004’s ‘Shaun of the Dead’, 2007’s ‘Hot Fuzz’ and 2013’s ‘The World’s End’ – but his latest is not just one of the most inventive films you’ll see this summer, it’s also one of his most idiosyncratic creations ever. That is thanks to his ingenuity to design an entire film around carefully chosen tracks – and we don’t just mean the action set-pieces, but every single sequence you see onscreen. Baby’s coffee run right after the dazzling opener is set to the tune of Bob & Earl’s ‘Harlem Shuffle’, and as an example of how choreographer Ryan Heffington (best known for videos such as Sia’s ‘Chandelier’) has worked his deft touch into the movie, one scene in that dance has Baby pretending to blow into a trumpet displayed in a shop window just as a trumpet blares in the track. Wright’s intention is ambitious all right, but more importantly the execution is absolutely meticulous, and it is an infectious toe-tapping delight.
The music isn’t simply for show though – since the car accident that claimed his parents’ lives, Baby has been stuck with tinnitus, and the steady pop-stream that issues from his iPod helps drown out the constant ringing in his ears. Neither for that matter is his career act incidental: Baby has been dragooned into working for Doc (Kevin Spacey), the ringleader of a recent spate of robberies who devises the plans and assembles a crew of freelancers to put them into motion. To be sure, both Baby and Doc are not hardboiled characters; that archetype belongs to Bats (Jamie Foxx), a paranoid career thief who has a constant bone to pick with Baby. Two other dynamics come into prominence during the course of the movie – one, Baby’s relationship with his deaf, wheelchair-bound foster father (C.J. Jones); and two, his budding romance with the diner waitress Debora (Lily James), who walks into his life singing Carla Thomas’ ‘B-A-B-Y’ – and it is again no coincidence that both have to do with sound and music.
Not quite so surprising, Baby wants to be done with his debt to Doc and start a new life with Debora, but those dreams are put on hold when Doc turns up on their first dinner date together and coolly threatens that something will happen to either Debora and/or Baby's godfather if Baby doesn’t come back to work for him. As such genre pictures do, things will get worse before they get better – not only does Baby get further caught up in Bats’ crosshairs, a bungled attempt on a postal office will have him reckoning with an utterly deranged Buddy. Throughout the ensuing melee, Baby remains the film’s moral centre – indeed, while fleeing for his life, Baby still makes time to return an old lady her handbag from the front seat of her car he just jacked, as well as send Pops to an old folks’ home so that he will be properly looked after – and it is his humanity, more than his shades, groove or awesome playlist, that keeps us emotionally invested in his predicament and his outcome.
Despite so, there is no denying that the story and character beats are nothing new, but Wright arguably isn’t trying to create a genre-defying picture than giving a fresh spin to familiar ingredients. And why not really; after all, he demonstrates amply that he has plenty of style and swagger to burn. What could have been a dreary rundown of the next job is given a propulsive jolt with Dave Brubeck’s ‘Unsquare Dance’ in the background. What could have been cheesy B-movie lines are rejigged with snappy witticisms: “You don’t need a score for the score,” says Bats to Baby; “He puts the Asian in home invasion,” says Doc about one Asian baddie he recruits; “Your waitress girlfriend is cute. Let’s keep it that way,” Doc says of Debora to Baby. And what could have been disposable supporting parts are instead played with panache by a menacing yet paternal Spacey, a chummy then off-the-hails Hamm, and a positively psychopathic Foxx; these veterans bolster charismatic career-making performances by relative newbies Elgort and James, who by the way exude enough chemistry in their few intimate scenes together to convince you of their genuine attraction for each other.
So indeed, it’s hard not to fall in love with this burst of creative energy from a director who as been rattling with the language of pulp cinema since the very start. At the core of ‘Baby Driver’ is a never-seen-before synergy of music and movement, a flawless intertwining of sight and sound that is performed with sheer bravura. Sure, there will be cynics who deride it for being gimmicky, but there is just so much to love about it that you will be hard-pressed not to simply go along for the ride. And truly, what a ride it is – thrilling, invigorating, slick, groovy, dazzling even, it deserves all those superlatives and more. Strap in, sit back and enjoy the coolest blast of these blockbuster days of summer.
(The music makes the movie makes the music in pop culture auteur Edgar Wright's vehicular-action-heist-thriller-jukebox-musical-romance, which is easily the coolest movie you'll see this summer)
Review by Gabriel Chong