Edgar Wright is probably my surviving snooty film person crush. Like Tarantino he is well-versed in the history of film and is eager to whip out his knowledge both by quoting shots in his movies, and whenever anyone gives him a chance in the real world: his list of favorite movies is 1000 long and his knowledge of films is seemingly encyclopedic. Like Tarantino, Wright is also someone who might be accused of putting more into style than substance, but I think that would be an unfair accusation. His movies are stylish, absurdly so, and the characters of Baby Driver are mostly mysterious and archetypal. And don’t get me wrong, when you’re this good at making movies this well crafted, especially exciting genre pieces, you don’t necessarily need anything else to prop it up. So it’s exclusively a bonus that Wright’s movies have so much kindness and soul as well.
Baby Driver focuses on a gang of criminals operating in Atlanta led by a mysterious king pin Doc (Kevin Spacey). The gang robs banks and post offices on the regular, with Doc never using the same team: he rotates out robbers such as Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González) and Bats (Jamie Foxx). His one constant is his getaway driver, Baby (Ansel Egort) with whom he has a teeth grindingly tense faux-paternal relationship. After stealing Doc’s car a few years back Baby is working off a debt, but as the movie begins his tenure is almost up and he is planning to go straight with his new girlfriend, Debora (Lily James).
Like Get Out earlier this year Baby Driver was heralded as a pretty funny film by a comedy director that wasn’t exactly a comedy, rather sticking more to the lane its genre’d premise promised. Baby Driver delivered on this. From its first moment the movie remains high octane levels of intense, even in scenes without any driving. Danger comes from all sides, and the characters speak fast and make brutal decisions faster.
The core of Baby’s character is his love of music, pumping constantly from an iPod. (Honestly, constantly, I think there are maybe a total of ten minutes of this movie without music). This spreads throughout the entire movie, which has a consistent of rhythm to it. Robberies, car chases, shoot-outs and conversations all have a beat and flow to them, assisted by some out of this world editing which is quick and funky without ever sacrificing spacial clarity. The camerawork too follows its own flow and rhythm – the second scene of the movie is a single long shot of Baby going to pick up coffee while rocking out to his tunes – the happiest he can be – and the camera floats around with him like a dance partner a la Singing in the Rain. Unlike most long shots it doesn’t feel like a technical show-off. When he’s listening to music Baby is gliding through the world, and the camera mimics his feeling (his first “date” with Debora is the other particularly long flowy shot).
Baby and Debora’s love story is sketched in like many of the other plot lines – told in a few words and a few scenes but added honest weight with the writing, editing, and writing. Debora is open-minded and sweet and she is accepting of Baby even though he doesn’t offer her much to go on up front. She clearly loves music as well and knows heartbreak, but the editing really sells what she means to Baby. Scenes with her are the only truly peaceful ones in the whole movie. It helps that Egort and James have a wonderful and honest chemistry, and though she could have just served as a motivation for Baby I wouldn’t say Wright does Debora a disservice – she too wants an escape, and she too is willing to take action to get it.
Even with Debora in the picture things cannot stay peaceful forever. Baby is, regardless of his inherent goodness, a criminal, and he works with criminals who make up his de facto family. Buddy and Darling appear affectionate and protective of Baby, though not over themselves. Bats, on the other hand, is an off-the-wall crazy man, at one time claiming he “has a drug habit to support his criminal career” and not the other way around. Tensions between the group remain at a constant high as internal pressure bubbles and outside pressures mount. It is here Edgar Wright’s skills as a comedian come into play: jokes are often about swerving to the unexpected, and Wright’s whole film works like a joke in this way – setting up situations and then blowing them up entirely. I was wrong about what I thought would happen so many times in this film (I guessed the “big bad” incorrectly twice) but I never felt cheated. Like any superb writer the hints are there in earlier scenes: Darling’s chilling speech about Bats not wanting to see Buddy angry, Bats’ insistence Baby can’t have mental problems because Bats already filled that slot in the group, Buddy’s casual mention that he too was once a driver… these are beautiful character moments while also serving as hints for what might come next. But the hints are just hints, and the film continues to swerve up until its final moments.
So where is that soul I was talking about earlier? It’s all throughout the movie. Before ducking into the movie my friend Conor and I grabbed a beer and talked about Kurt Vonnegut (Conor, who helped us review It Comes At Night, just started Breakfast of Champions). We both discussed the love Vonnegut clearly has for his characters, how he never writes a villain, and how sometimes he punishes characters or puts them in bad situations but he never stops loving them. Wright is much the same. His characters are on a whole decent, even the criminals. They have codes of honor and things that matter to them. They can be funny and they can be heart-broken, they can surprise you with their kindness or their anger. Baby in particular fits this mold: the movie never shies away from the goodness in him, but never pretends he hasn’t done terrible things that he will have to answer for. This love and balance is what elevates this film above a normal (very well put together) genre flick. The characters fill the roles of archetypes but they feel real, and they want and need real things.
I could gush on about Baby Driver forever, but you should really just see it. I probably will again. I give Baby Driver 10 stolen cars out of 10 parking garages.
- Edgar Wright is a fantastic visual director, but he’s also a fantastic writer, making the most out of a not too-talky film. I can wholeheartedly believe he’d leave Ant-Man if they did re-writes without him.
- The title of this article was suggested by Conor Bell as we walked into the theater. “If you give this movie a good review, you have to call it Boy, Can This Baby Drive. And credit me.”
- Another fun POV trick the movie throws out: whenever anyone takes an earbud out of Baby’s ear, the music becomes half-muffled. Whenever the earbuds are totally removed, the tinnitus he uses music to battle kicks in. It further sells the movie from his perspective, and is pretty nifty sound design.
- Honestly anyone in the cast could be given the MVP award: I don’t know if we should thank the actors, casting directors, or Wright but everyone is just about spot-on. This may change as early as tomorrow, but for now Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm (always Jon Hamm) are bucking for my personal top spot. But honestly, no performances under perfect.
- The song Tequila features in a prominent action sequence (gun shots are edited to the percussion) and has been stuck in my head for the last twelve hours.