Dir. Edgar Wright
Staring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm
In our latest head-to-head review, Will Abbott and Graham Kelly argue whether Baby Driver is worth the hype.
Will’s View: “The best action film since Mad Max: Fury Road”
Ever hear that story about the woman in Michigan who sued the distributors of Drive? Weird as it sounds, it’s true; she went in expecting a fast roadster-type movie, à la The Fast and the Furious, and wasn’t happy with the more moody take on the genre that Nicolas Winding-Refn served up.
Perhaps Baby Driver might be more up her alley. There are some superficial similarities – boy meets baddies, boy becomes getaway driver for baddies, boy then meets girl, boy also has a wonderful taste in music – but Edgar Wright’s film is an entirely different beast. Here’s a more proper synopsis; after getting caught in the crosshairs of crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), a young, tinnitus-affected Baby (Ansel Elgort) must act as a getaway driver for various heists. Accompanying him on these robberies are a variety of hardened criminals, including Jon Hamm’s Buddy, Jamie Foxx’s Bats, Eiza González’ Darling, and, in a very game cameo, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea as a formerly noseless thug. Each one is more dangerous than the last, but all are equally baffled by their near-mute chauffeur who seems to do everything in time with the music coming from his ever-present iPod.
I’ve tried to give away as little of the plot as possible because whatever I write will be far from enough to describe just how intensely gripping Baby Driver is. The length is just shy of 2 hours, but once things kick off, you won’t notice it fly by. It’s a testament to just how tightly everything is plotted, and truly exposes just how rare that is in film nowadays.
The soundtrack is getting many (well deserved) plaudits; a wonderful selection of classic rock, funk, and soul. One thing I noticed in regards to the song selection is that several songs are perhaps more familiar due to modern hip-hop samples. Take Dave McCallum’s “The Edge”; on paper, the name might not sound too familiar, but you’ll probably know it for providing the intro to Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode”. Maybe this is Wright playing with our expectations, like he does elsewhere in the film; building up to one thing, then swerving unexpectedly onto a new road. It could also be representative of the bridge between the “classic” car movies (think The Driver or Bullitt) that clearly influenced Wright, and the more modern sensibility that he’s able to imbue. Of course, it is just as likely that Wright just picked songs he liked; regardless, it all synchronises together perfectly.
Speaking of good choices, the casting is superb; Jamie Foxx in particular. He plays the vicious robber Bats with enough style to make him engaging, but is perfectly capable at conveying just how reprehensible he really is. Hamm is nearly unrecognisable as the sleazy but equally immoral Buddy and has excellent Bonny & Clyde-esque chemistry with González, while Lily James’ portrayal of the waitress/love interest, Deborah, looks so much like Shelly from Twin Peaks that I refuse to believe this wasn’t intentional.
There are one or two missteps, but only the kind of thing that you might notice after it’s over, talking with friends or writing a review online. I couldn’t help but feel that towards the end, the script does slip up in regards to some character actions, and after all of the excitement that’s happened in the first 110 minutes, the dénouement stalls the momentum somewhat. But again, I must reiterate; this is just typical internet nit-picking. The most important thing to note: Baby Driver works. It works because it understands what makes action movies exciting; all the boom-boom-crash in the world won’t make a difference if you don’t have likeable/interesting characters, playing with high stakes, for understandable reasons. It’s possibly the best action film since Mad Max: Fury Road, and it deserves to be seen in cinema to fully appreciate the sound and fury playing in perfect harmony together.
Baby Driver has convinced me that maybe, just maybe, I should finally start thinking about doing that damned theory test. I can think of no higher praise for a movie.
N.B: At time of writing, the soundtrack didn’t appear to be released on streaming sites. Fortunately, Spotify user jibberboosh went to the trouble of compiling all of the available tracks right here.
Graham’s View: “The storyline, ironically for a driving movie, lacks direction”
Baby Driver, at first glance, delivers a unique take on the classic car film: blending blockbuster gunfire, stunt-filled police chases, romance, Fifties diner aesthetics, and a Quentin Tarantino filmmaking style. A heavy emphasis on a purposeful cross-genre soundtrack provides an extra dimension of colour to the action.
Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), the director, brings a distinct flavour to the film, with a strong set design and visuals, married to the omnipresent and plot-central soundtrack, producing a believable yet stylised modern day Atlanta, Georgia. Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault In Our Stars) is a getaway driver who relies on music to help him overcome a hearing disability suffered in a car accident as a child, as he speeds away from his pursuers in a haze of burnt rubber and metal crunching choreography. When his plans to abandon his link with the world of crime after one final heist are scuppered by his contrary criminal boss Doc (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty, House of Cards), matters are further complicated by the introduction of maybe-girlfriend-maybe-not Debbie (Lily James, Cinderella, Downton Abbey), this relationship seeming somewhat of a side plot to the main story.
It is in fact the storyline which lets down this film, which, a little ironically for a driving movie, lacks direction. The plot takes some time to get off the line, doesn’t clearly explain what the destination actually is, and delivers a pyrotechnics-heavy climax which feels a bit bland. Such drawbacks take away a lot from a film which had a solid concept as a basis: the soundtrack is effectively a central character in the film, flawlessly implemented Reservoir Dogs-style, serving to heighten tensions, influence mood, get feet tapping and wheels spinning. The blending of decades worked well, with the film alternately feeling set in any time between the Fifties and the modern day. The car chase scenes were strangely few, but provided all the roaring V8 engines, burning tyres, black sunglasses and unrealistic drifting which define automobile films.
Baby Driver looked to be one of the standout films of the summer: a fun, fast, furious blockbuster, a unique take on the classic American car movie, promising revving engines, gunfire, and a pulsing soundtrack. However, the messy and wearisome plot is a major failure of the film. Worth a watch for the sheer entertainment value and the distinct style, but once will probably be enough.