Edgar Wright has been making a name for himself in Hollywood for years now. From his “Cornetto Trilogy” of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, & The World’s End to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, he’s quickly became a favorite writer/director among cinephiles the world over. Just so far, we’ve seen his hand at zombie flicks, buddy-cop films, disaster pictures, and comic-book adaptations; with work like that, who knows what comes next from him? While putting a bead on a common thread throughout his filmography thus far is difficult, I would say that it is his sense of style. Each film has its own flavor, often wildly different from each other in genre and feel, there is no denying that he wants his movies to be more than just something you see; he wants us to feel what zips and pops on-screen.
With that in mind, I would say that even though his filmography is fairly limited thus far, Baby Driver might be one of the most “Edgar Wright movies” ever. In it, we follow Baby, a reluctant getaway driver who is working off his debt, job by job; yes, Baby is really his name, and he’s played very effectively by Ansel Elgort. You see, Baby doesn’t say much, and he also doesn’t drive without his tunes in his ears. While this “quirk” plays heavily into the film, the character has definite reasons to do it, which only makes it that much more effective to see play out. His young age and unconventional hang-up annoys many co-horts in the film, including Griff (Jon Bernthal) and Bats (Jamie Foxx), but he always delivers results for Doc (Kevin Spacey), and that’s enough to put up with it all. The stakes (and payouts) of the robberies keep raising, but Baby just wants out. This desire to quit is only quickened by Baby’s infatuation with the waitress, Debora (played by the incredibly charming, Lily James), but when you’re as skilled as Baby, there is no easy way out.
The film begins as a marriage of sight and sound, and it rarely lets up. Car chases today are often bombastic and filled with CGI, but here, we are along for the ride with practical effects, deft editing, and a killer soundtrack. Often, the tracks used in the film have been sampled by artists in hip-hop and repopularized as hooks that are instantly recognizable to most anyone today. To hear the original tracks that were the source of inspiration used to such kinetic and surprising results reminds modern audiences that there are still many things that can be done by looking back to the past. Baby Driver is strange in that it has very modern sensibilities apparent throughout that are instantly apparent, but those all run perfectly meshed with old techniques, tropes, and rhythms. The music used here as a storytelling device only reinforces my overall take on it. The whole thing feels cinematically like in music when mashups and remixes are done absolutely right: the old, the new, and everything created feels elevated because of it all.
I think there will be some who will criticize the depth or lack thereof of some characters and some of their motivations and choices (I can agree in some cases); still, Wright comes to entertain and craft incredible sequences (of which there are several). The film is infused with an energy that can only come from a tightly crafted tale that knows where it’s going and knows the audience can’t wait to see it all through. Often, Wright primarily works style into his films in a visual sense; while that’s all here as well, what really astounds is the incredible soundtrack. Eclectic in makeup, there isn’t a stinker in the bunch, and tracks come back around in the film to tell even more of the tale in unique ways. Funny enough, the one that will stick with me longest is one of the tracks Baby creates from a recording he makes of other characters talking. Music is an extension of Baby as an individual, and that catchy track makes that point as well as any.
Content-wise, the movie is an R-rated crime caper film. Expect language, violence, and some sexual dialogue; if you don’t watch any films of the rating, you will likely take issue and should avoid. However, if you don’t mind or look past such things, you’ll likely be caught up in a tale that has a definite path and is a blast to see through. The acting is all top-notch, including Jon Hamm & Eiza Gonzalez as a married pair of robbers. Seeing that Don Draper charisma behind Hamm’s grizzled criminal, Buddy, reminded me of how little I get to see him do his thing and do it well on film. Jamie Foxx never “acts out” as Bats, but he delivers a crazed character in a very satisfying low-key way. If anyone underperforms here, it’s Spacey, because there isn’t anything he does that we haven’t seen him do before. It’s all well done, but it is familiar to his previous work. The star truly is Elgort; I cannot wait to see more of him after this, because having never watched him before, I see him following the career path of Ryan Gosling in delivering multi-layered performances without the need to resort to overacting.
I’ve tried to keep this entire review SPOILER-FREE, but when it comes to Christian themes and content, I thought the ending effectively shows that even being a good guy won’t keep judgment at bay. Still, mercy and grace can wait down the line after one deals with their sin’s consequences. Obviously, some won’t get that message, as they will be put off by the R-rating, but for those who do watch, it’s good to see that a worthwhile message can come out of it all.
In conclusion, Baby Driver has style for miles. It’s worth noting that I finished and immediately wanted to go again. The language and violence will be off-putting for some, but at its heart (and this film has oodles of it), it’s a simple story of a guy, a girl, and him doing what he must to be with her. Aside from that accessibility, the whole thing is a sight-and-sound experience, a ride that doesn’t let up and doesn’t let you go. Edgar Wright keeps his filmography going strong with no signs of stopping, and that’s a great thing for film fans everywhere.