“They call me Baby Driver, and once upon a pair of wheels. Scoot down the road, what’s my number? I wonder how your engines feel?”
(by Simon and Garfunkel…just one cut from a deep soundtrack)
This new film by Edgar Wright proves several strong points about movie-making.
A story need not be complex to be compelling, music isn’t always just background for the benefit of the audience, and action doesn’t have to be so over-the-top to be entertaining or thrilling.
Car and Driver Magazine said “Baby Driver” might just be one of the top ten car chase films of all time, and I am inclined to agree, but its so much more than that. Baby’s abilities behind the wheel are only the means of escape for a team of robbers, but his personal motivations are starkly separated.
One other thing that sets this film apart is realism. Baby does nothing in this film with a car we haven’t seen the likes of Ken Block pull off, and he disposes of them like the tools they are. Thank the movie gods this was not an exotic sports car smashfest. Edgar Wright has immediately put potent distance between himself and the automotive insanity that has gripped Hollywood for far too long.
Kevin Spacey brings his salty dry panache to the character who is the brains of the operation, and the one who looks at Baby as his good luck charm. The crew of thugs hired for each job brings a waterfall of talent from Jon Hamm to Jamie Foxx, and you quickly learn to love and hate each one in their own right. Baby, on the other hand, is there to do his job and find a way out, and his intent to escape is strongly motivated after he meets Debora. Lily James breathes charming and genuine life into the diner waitress that steals Baby’s heart with a catchy phrase, “All I want is to head west on 20, in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have. Just me, my music, and the road.”
Who could resist a pitch like that, from a girl that beautiful? I’m not even in the movie and I want to go.
The film deftly weaves flashbacks and fantasy visions that give more insight into Baby and his haunted past. Piece by piece, all his eccentricities fall into place and you find yourself quietly rooting for maybe the most understated movie hero ever. The action of each heist raises the stakes, and the tension builds as Baby is pushed ever closer to his breaking point. The scenes of his home life with his foster father deliver a humble and kind, if basic existence. But more importantly, it showcases how music is more that just a fascination or pastime, it is indeed his very life’s blood.
Ansel Elgort is brilliant casting for the title role. Not only is he convincing in appearance alone, but his portrayal of innocence being lost by degrees, the constant haunting of a tragic past, and the fear pushing determination are each layers of a heart-rending performance.
Amid the tension and action, “Baby Driver” still finds the all important zing of the well placed comic line, perfectly timed music to make you jump and laugh, and the kind of unexpected ending that makes it all worthwhile. Its been too long since a film rolled this kind of stylish presentation together with thrills, laughs, and maybe a misty eye.
“Baby Driver” is flat-out, full-throttle fun, and that’s what I call bang for my movie ticket buck. Take it for test drive, and don’t look back.
– T. August Green