If you know me, you know I love listening to music in my car and driving with the volume on 11. I became “the driver” in high school when I got my license before all of my friends and that slowly transitioned into my driving people in college because half of my friends didn’t have cars and the other half were better at being passengers than drivers. Baby Driver (2017) is a heist movie that focuses on the getaway as opposed to the crime itself, with director Edgar Wright behind the wheel. Wright delivers an exciting adrenaline rush anchored by a tragic character who uses music to connect with the audience on a fun yet vulnerable level.
Edgar Wright, director of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), one of my favorite movies of all time, returns to the director’s chair after four years and for the first time in his career he sets the scene in the United States. Instead of pulling an audible and setting the film in NYC or LA, he chooses Atlanta, Georgia (I’m sure the tax breaks had something to do with it as well). On paper it seems like a suspect move, but Wright illuminates the streets with flashing police lights and hot-rod-red chargers. However, the city isn’t the only electrifying quality of the movie – just about everything else is too.
Baby (Ansel Eglort) is a getaway driver who works for a crime lord named Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pay a debt that’s been owed for a decade. From the very first scene, we see that Baby is transporting thieves and killers to and from banks and grocery stores. However, when he’s alone waiting for his team to come back with the loot, Baby’s jamming in his car like anyone would do at a red light. When it’s time to book Baby shows audiences from the get-go that he is the best getaway driver on this side of the Mississippi. Period. So we have action, check. Next, Baby meets Debora (Lily James), a diner waitress who, like Baby, wants to just drive away to nowhere without a plan and leave it all behind. Elgort and James could teach a chemistry class – not high school chemistry, a class for on-screen chemistry because these two are delightful to watch. Their performances are nuanced with innocence and hesitation that makes you really root for them to get out of this movie together and, more importantly, alive. Because like any crime movie, Baby can’t just leave it all behind even when his debt to Doc is paid.
There are few movies with an opening scene that puts a smile across my face from cheek to cheek. From the opening, alone, we learn all we need to know about Baby’s passion (music) and skill (driving) and Wright presents it all in such style and practicality that your seatbelt is fastened for the next two hours. If there’s one thing Edgar Wright’s movies scream, it’s fun. Each of his movies really make it look like the actors are having fun acting in it, Wright is having fun directing, editors are having fun editing, etc. There’s a lot of comedy, a lot of action, and at its core there’s a love story worth fighting for. That’s what you get when you watch Edgar Wright, and it’s why he’s in a pantheon of untouchable auteurs such as David Fincher and Terrence Malick.
Violent things happen in this film and Wright walks the line between disturbing and unnecessary with pure showmanship. Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Darling (Eiza González) are all Grade-A psychopaths. Bats, especially, is a killer at heart; but we see him kill maybe two people on-screen in the whole movie. Yet as he brags about wasting the store clerk or robbing a diner, we have full understanding of his character, and Foxx plays that arrogance perfectly. I loved to hate him throughout the movie, and as you focus on Baby, the protagonist, you see he’s disturbed by what he sees and it throws his focus off sometimes and the team (and his car) pay the price. HOWEVER, when Baby is in the zone, so are you, and the way Wright captures that locked-in feeling with music is superb. Some songs you’ll recognize, and some you won’t as much; but there’s no denying you’ll have your head bobbing and you’ll be on the edge of your seat and watching every turn and outstanding maneuver Baby makes.
In an era where it seems CGI can make a movie in half the time, Wright gives you practical effects and some of the best vehicle stunt work in the past decade. Car chase movies are either too choppy to follow or as fake as they come on purpose (Fast & Furious). With Baby Driver, when the camera is in the car, the passengers are the audience watching Baby do his best. When the camera leaves the car, the car becomes the focal point and Wright maneuvers the camera through traffic almost to the point where he maps out where the car is going on screen so you can see it yourself, involving you in the movie in the best way possible – as if you’re in the driver’s seat. While all of this is happening, Baby is completely mute, listening to his music in his headphones and creating a soundtrack for the scene better than anything Guardians of the Galaxy does with their diegetic sound. Honestly, if this movie doesn’t get a cinematography nomination, I’ll be pretty upset; but not as upset as I will be if it isn’t nominated for sound mixing and sound editing. The way the music syncs with everything going on outside of the car… all because Baby stalled their escape because he had to fast forward to the best part of the song.
Baby Driver isn’t PERFECT. It probably could have been 10-ish minutes shorter and my personal gripe with it is Jon Bernthal is only in two scenes. There’s no denying every character has their moment to shine and everyone exudes their enthusiasm for being on an Edgar Wright set. If The Fault in our Stars (2014) was the breakout role for Ansel Elgort, I hope this is proof that he can work with more renowned directors in the future because I think this is just the beginning of a very promising career for him. I can go on about the camera work, the music, the acting, but what really stole my heart about this movie, a summer blockbuster, is its originality. It’s a heist movie with barely any heist. It’s a musical with no one singing. Wright knows the tropes of any Hollywood blockbuster, and he approaches them with an appreciation that comes off as flattery more than mockery.
It’s fast, it’s loud, and it deserves your money. Wright proves, even after 30 years, that nobody puts Baby in the corner.