Baby Driver

Synopsis: A talented, young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. When he meets the girl of his dreams (Lily James), Baby sees a chance to ditch his criminal life and make a clean getaway. But after being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), he must face the music when a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom. 

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Baby Driver 7.75
eyelights: the musical montages. the editing. the central conceit.
eyesores: its run-of-the-mill heist maneuvers. some of its dialogues.

“One more job and I’m done.”

‘Baby Driver’. Normally, there’d be no chance in Hell that I’d even consider seeing a movie called ‘Baby Driver’ – let alone actually seeing it. To me, it’s a title that evokes a ghastly straight-to-video Hulk Hogan movie, and screams of bargain basement ‘Kindergarden Cop’.

!@#$. I don’t need that !@#$.

But see it I did.

The thing is, ‘Baby Driver’ is the brainchild of Edgar Wright, the mad genius behind ‘Spaced‘, ‘Shaun of the Dead‘, ‘Hot Fuzz‘, ‘The World’s End‘ and, most notably, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World‘. And by virtue of his oeuvre thus far, he’s firmly on my radar – forever and always.

Still, I was reticent about a movie called ‘Baby Driver’. I know it’s shallow of me, but even the greatest stumble from time to time; Edgar Wright could have become mad without the genius. But, when I heard the basic concept of ‘Baby Driver’, however, I was on board.

From my understanding, the idea was that Wright was trying to make a movie that was edited to its music soundtrack. His main character, Baby, for all intents and purposes has earbuds grafted to his ears, continuously playing music to drown out the hum of his tinnitus.

So all the music he listens to becomes the soundtrack not just for his life but for the picture – and its beats dictate the movie’s beats. In my mind, this meant that ‘Baby Driver’ would essentially be a car chase musical – an unintuitive concept that greatly intrigued me.

Especially in Wright’s hands, who’d served up an audio/visual feast for the senses with ‘Scott Pilgrim’.

The story is pretty basic: Baby has been the getaway driver for Doc, head of a criminal organization in Atlanta, GA, since the age of 12. A super-skilled wheelman, he’s trying to pay off a debt that he’s owed Doc ever since he stole an expensive shipment of his in error.

All Baby dreams of is the day that his debt is paid, so that he can just drive off into the sunset with his girl, Debora. And that day comes. But Doc won’t let him go: he considers Baby his good luck charm and threatens him. Baby has to find a way out… or die trying.

Truly, what makes the picture worth seeing is that aforementioned blend of music and editing. Given that it’s largely an action film, cutting sequences to the soundtrack is an exciting prospect – especially for a music buff like myself, whose life is punctuated by music.

At its best, ‘Baby Driver’ delivers the goods and then some: the opening sequence alone had me relishing Wright’s adroitness and laughing along with all of his little winks (he even paced the gunfire to the beat, though it was immersed in the soundtrack to some degree).

He followed it up with a sort of musical number that found Baby walking to the sounds of Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”, accompanying it with choreographed movements. The sequence even had little nods to the song, planting key lyrics on various background surfaces.

If it all sounds a little bit gimmicky, that’s because it is. Wright is having fun with his concept and the only way to enjoy it is to appreciate the skill with which he accomplished exactly that which he sought to do – and to relax into it enough to have fun along with him.

The heist/chase sequences are a marvel of action movie editing, with Baby’s stunt driving being the centrepiece. It’s said that all of the car scenes were shot live, that there was no CGI involved. If that’s the case, then it’s pretty amazing, considering what he pulls off.

His maneuvers are a sight to behold, but even the simpler moves are pretty sweet. There’s a satisfying one when he lines up with two other red cars, that are different but similar, and finds a way to temporarily lose the police by switching places with the others in a tunnel.

Yes, it’s a contrived sequence. Yes, it was stupid to drive a red getaway car.

But it’s a hoot anyway.

Surprisingly, despite its concept, much of the picture rests on its cast:

  • Baby is played by Ansel Elgort, who’s probably best known for playing Caleb Prior in the ‘Divergent’ series. I can’t say that I was enamoured with him; his acting style reminded me of Val Kilmer and Keanu Reeves when he was playing it serious. However, he was very fun the rest of the time, finger-tapping and lip-synching to the music.
  • CJ Jones was endearing as Joseph, Baby’s long-time guardian. He’s such a sweet old man and they have great chemistry. What’s interesting is that Joseph is deaf so he and Baby communicate via sign language. It made sense given Baby’s own tinnitus and the fact that Baby’s constantly playing music; this roommate wouldn’t mind it one bit. Anyway, it was cool to watch them together.
  • Lily James plays Debora, a waitress of a local diner whom Baby befriends and falls in love with. Their initial interactions were a bit over-the-top for my taste, but it could be argued that they were flirting. In fact, after those first encounters, James was much more credible.
  • Naturally, Kevin Spacey is excellent as Doc, Baby’s boss. He’s going through the motions a bit, but even so Spacey can do no wrong. On a completely unrelated note, I was stunned by how bloated he was; I haven’t seen any of his recent work, so I didn’t expect that.
  • But it’s Jon Hamm, as Buddy, who stole most of the scenes; for a hardened criminal he was oddly likeable. Hamm looked like a cross between Bruce Willis and Till Lindemann from Rammstein – both cool, collected, but also dangerous as !@#$.
  • Eiza González played Darling, Buddy’s girlfriend. Frankly, I found her totally unbelievable as a hardened criminal; she’s too small and pretty to be a true bad @$$ (aside for the !@#$ tattoos, of course). Not that women can’t be hardcases. They can be. I just didn’t believe González in the part.
  • Meanwhile Jamie Foxx was decent in the part of Bats, one of the criminals that Doc works with. But I just didn’t understand why anyone would want to work with him, given that he was such a reckless d!ck. I would have jettisoned his @$$ so fast his head would have spun.

Though it’s a heist picture, ‘Baby Driver’ is filled with golden scenes.

One of my favourites is when we can’t hear Doc explaining the plan because it’s shown from Baby’s perspective. Because he’s listening to music, the others doubt him and he’s pressured into proving that he’s on top of things. Since he can lip read, he picked up on every detail.

Another that was pretty amusing, though a bit obvious, is when one of the gang is tasked with getting Michael Myers masks for their heist, and shows up with Austin Powers masks. The others are bemused by his cultural dyslexia, but they have no choice: they have to wear the masks.

Nice.

Since the picture is more conceptual than anything else, the dialogues could be clichéd at times, making plot developments predictable. But it’s forgivable in this context. And though Wright’s editing didn’t always match the music, sadly, it was excellent and it kept things flowing.

The third act is a bit more conventional and seemed to steer away from this gimmick a bit too much for my taste, but ‘Baby Driver’ was still fun. Thankfully, the first part was truly superb, delivering exactly what I was hoping to see and hear; I was having a rollickin’ good time.

That was enough for me; I look forward to seeing it again.

Date of viewing: July 19, 2017

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