Baby Driver **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Edgar Wright.
Written by: Edgar Wright.
Starring: Ansel Elgort (Baby), Kevin Spacey (Doc), Lily James (Debora), Eiza González (Darling), Jon Hamm (Buddy), Jamie Foxx (Bats), Jon Bernthal (Griff), Flea (Eddie), Lanny Joon (JD), CJ Jones (Joseph), Paul Williams (The Butcher).
Edgar Wright’s career as a writer/director has often seem liked a tour through various film genres – zombies in Shaun of the Dead, to early ‘90s action in Hot Fuzz, comic books in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, paranoid sci-fi with The World’s End – but all with his own unique, funny perspective. He loves the films of the past, isn’t afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve, but he isn’t just making copies of them either. With Baby Driver, it looked like perhaps he was going to the heist genre – which, in a way, he is, or perhaps the existential action films – a noted inspiration for the film is Walter Hill’s The Driver (which I saw last week for the first time, and I think is his best film – although, I’m not much of a Hill fan) – but Wright is too much of a romantic for that. His main character, Baby (Ansel Elgort), may well want project that he is like Ryan O’Neal’s Driver – who doesn’t have a name, because he doesn’t need one – he is what he does – but he’s too sweet natured for that. In the end, Baby Driver is more a musical than anything – which is odd, since there isn’t much actual singing going on in the film. But the film does hum with a constant musical beat, and everything is perfectly choreographed – from the various car chases (the best seen on the big screen in years) to smaller moments, like Baby walking down the street for coffee. The characters in Baby Driver don’t sing – but the movie does.
In terms of plot, Baby Driver is fairly straight forward. Baby (Elgort) is under the thumb of an Atlanta crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey) – and needs to pay him back for a mistake in his youth. He does that by being the getaway driver for various heists, with a revolving door of criminals, that Doc sets up for him. The movie opens with Baby showing us – and his cohorts – just how great a driver he really is. He is on the verge of paying off his debt and getting out – it will just take that one last job to do so. As with every “one last job” in cinema history though, things don’t go as planned. All Baby wants to do is hit the open road – but doing so may put his elderly foster father Joe (CJ Jones) in danger – and also threaten his blossoming romance with Debora (Lily James – who is somehow just as adorable and lovable as Elgort in the film). So, he’s teamed up with husband and wife robbers Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Bats (Jamie Foxx), who seems to be always one step away from killing someone.
Everything about Baby Driver works. The car chases are the best you have seen in a while, and are choreographed like dance numbers, with Baby’s car careening around corners, weaving in and out traffic etc. – and doesn’t rely on the type of rapid fire editing that gives most modern action movies the false sense of energy. The soundtrack – full of standards, and oddities – somehow always hits the right note. The cast are all essentially playing archetypes, but you don’t really care when they are this good at doing so. Foxx, James and Elgort are the standouts – but there isn’t a weak note in the cast. The dialogue by Wright walks right up to the line of being too cute, but somehow never crosses it – in part, I think, because the cast never sets a toe over the line.
Most of all though, the film is just pure, out and out entertainment. You’re unlikely to have more fun at the movies this year than you will at Baby Driver – and its coming at just the right time of year for that. I’ve skipped more of the summer “blockbusters” this year than I normally do – and even still, I’m already tired of the explosions and CGI and franchises. Baby Driver is not an overly original film – but it is an “original” – a film that doesn’t need to worry about setting anything up, or continuing anything, etc. It’s just straight ahead, old school movie fun. You know, the type of summer movie Hollywood used to know how to make, and has somehow forgotten.