BABY DRIVER Movie Review
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a muscular Walter Hill movie re-imagined as a romantic jukebox musical. A modern remix of a classic song, and one of the most entertaining, original, and purely cinematic movies of the year.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is not just a getaway driver. He’s THE getaway driver. And local Mob Boss “Doc” (Kevin Spacey) won’t use anybody else. Baby’s been working for Doc since he was a kid after being in the wrong place at the wrong time stealing the wrong car. He’s been paying off his debt one job at a time.
The rest of Doc’s ever changing crew think Baby is weird, or worse, “mental”. He doesn’t look the part, he doesn’t act the part, constantly listening to what ever song fits his mood or situation, ear buds always in, drowning out the world around him and his “hum-in-the-drum” tinnitus caused in an accident that robbed him of his mother. But he drives the part, and to Doc that is all that matters.
As the fated one last job fast approaches Baby meets Debora (the ever adorable Lily James), and begins to envision a life for himself outside of car chases and hired goons. But escaping a life of crime is never easy, even when you’re as fast as Baby.
The plot is standard crime movie stuff. The mob boss, the one last job, the volatile gang member, the girl and the promise of a better life. But it’s the change of rhythm that Wright brings that breathes new life into the tale.
This is a movie that pulses with life and much of that comes from the music and how it is used. The songs aren’t playing because they make a scene “cooler”, though many of them do, but because they inform and reflect character.
Baby cannot function at his best without a beat. He finds a rhythm that works and he plays to it, remixing on the fly when he needs to, like using his car’s windscreen wipers as record scratches over The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bellbottoms in the phenomenal opening bank robbery and car chase. At one point, Baby has to make the entire crew wait whilst he restarts a song because they are no longer in time with the music.
Music is how Baby shapes his world and filters information. He secretly records his colleagues and puts snippets of their conversation to beats. Turning his memories into songs he can return to when needed. The most important of those songs is simply titled “Mom”.
If you were to silence the music in Baby Driver you would strip away its character. The music is not throwaway, it is not there to be background noise. It is the film. Baby Driver is music, and it informs everything, from the characterisation to the tight pace of the editing.
The performances are strong across the board. Elgort as Baby has that soft baby face that works so well for the character, with a mischievous glint in the eyes when he wants to subvert that “good boy” impression. You get that he’s a nice kid, but you also totally buy that he’s been stealing cars for as long as he could see over the wheel.
Spacey brings a subdued menace to Doc. He sells a genuine affection for Baby, but makes it clear it would be unwise to cross him. Jamie Foxx is Bats, the gang’s self declared wild card, and he knocks it out the park. Flitting from calm to explosive in the blink of an eye. Rounding out the cast are Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez as the film’s Bonnie and Clyde. They’re nice to Baby when it suits them, but there is genuine darkness behind their shark smiles.
Lily James saves love interest Debora from becoming a dud of a character. On paper there isn’t much to her. It seems the main reason Debora and Baby get together is they both like the idea of escaping their lives “in a car they can’t afford, with a plan they don’t have”. Beyond that we don’t really see what else they have in common. She doesn’t have a great deal of agency, and the relationship between her and Baby goes from budding to undying so quickly as to strain belief. Or at least it would, if the chemistry between James and Elgort wasn’t so palpable. She is so charming that you forgive and forget how thinly drawn the character is.
So the film stumbles slightly with the romance, but once it gets back to the action, it soars. For those who despair at the CG heavy car chases and stunts in the Fast and Furious movies (I am not one of these people!), then Baby Driver is the movie they’ve been waiting for. So much of the stunt work is done in camera without any computer generated aid and the results are exhilarating. Once again, the music plays a big part in the action’s success. The ever escalating lunacy of Focus by Hocus Pocus pushes one sequence into the stratosphere. This is elegant film making, the action is clear and easy to follow and serves a purpose. Each chase or gun fight reveals character and pushes plot.
Wright has really outdone himself here. His direction is crisp, the cutting precise, and the script tight. He nimbly jumps from humour to tension to sweetness then back to thrilling us, sometimes all in the same scene. The character work is strong and the film contains some genuine surprises. It all adds up to the finest movie of the summer. This is Wright’s version of Walter Hill’s The Driver and Michael Mann’s Heat. He clearly acknowledges his influences, but remixes them into something original. Baby Driver comfortably sits alongside those classics. The tune may be familiar, but it’s catchy for a reason, and it’s one you don’t want to stop yourself from humming along to.