8 out of 10
Ansel Elgort as Baby
Kevin Spacey as Doc
Lily James as Deborah
Jon Bernthal as Griff
Eiza Gonzalez as Darling
Jon Hamm as Buddy
Jamie Foxx as Bats
Directed by Edgar Wright
Baby Driver Review:
Writer-director Edgar Wright has been edging on making a film like Baby Driver, and with it he finally (and this feel’s strange to write about the director of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) achieves the promise he has shown for so long. Doing away with comedy and overt genre busting, his first try at straight-forward action filmmaking edges on depth but never loses sight of being entertaining first and foremost. As much music video as action film or crime thriller, Baby Driver doesn’t try to bust out of convention but does make good use of it, bending old notions in interesting ways as it looks at the character relationships that bind criminals together without ever getting self serious.
Baby (Elgort) is a driver and a good one, so good in fact that he’s become master planner Doc’s (Spacey) go to man for all of his heists. His passion is for the road and his music, which he uses to drown out the painful ringing in his ears, not the violence and action of his chosen profession and when he meets a lovely young waitress (James) he considers giving it up for good. But first he owes one last job to Doc which teams him back up with the violence-prone Bats (Foxx) and action-junkie couple Buddy (Hamm) and Darling (Gonzalez).
It would be misleading to say none of that is important, because it very much is, particularly when the heist goes bad and the gang starts to turn on another. The cast is given plenty of clever and fun dialogue to play with and they know how, but never get stuck in a rut. Hamm, in particular, lurks around the edges for most of the film, hinting at a friendly, big brother relationship with Elgort – even advising him to get out of the life of crime before it eats him up – but when questions of loyalty suddenly arise, all of that changes and Hamm takes center stage showing off a side he hasn’t been allowed in his film roles till now. And he has to, because Baby is a blank canvas Baby Driver isn’t so much interested in painting as painting around. By using him as the connector for all of the characters in the film, it can view all of them through him but at the cost of viewing him clearly. When he does come into focus, it’s for the film’s only real descent into convention as he romances Deborah and attempts to leave his old life for her.
That’s because as much as Wright has paid attention to his characters and why they work, Baby Driver is more of a musical than an action drama. Not because it is wall-to-wall music (though it is), but because the film is built around music and the importance of music to the character’s inner lives. Emotions and big moments are better described through the music Baby is perpetually listening to than to what he or others are saying, and the film is ultimately built around and to the big musical moments. They just happen to be car chases instead of song and dance routines.
It should be no surprise that it is the car chases where Baby Driver really shines. Wright, cinematographer Bill Pope, choreographer Rick Heffington and the stunt driving team have worked out a ballet of carnage and impressive stunts, ever looking for more and more interesting things to do with the cars while ignoring some of the classic conventions of the car chase. Baby’s main mode of escape is to find normal traffic and blend into it long enough to ditch the car he’s in and get another car, but when speed and deft maneuvering is needed, he’s got it. None of the chases go on long enough to quite make it into the top ten of all-time film chases, but mixed together they make an admirable addition to the genre.
Baby Driver doesn’t have much more to offer beyond that, but it’s not interested in offering much else, either. It just moves. From beginning to end with barely a stop to catch its breath and yet never feeling over stuffed or under done. It doesn’t have quite the depth of characterization of crime classics, but then if it did, it would have to stop and like a juggler balancing spinning plates would quickly transform from a fascinating act to a sad man surrounded by broken china. As long as the plates are spinning, though, it’s magic.