There are some directors out there who demand your attention. Edgar Wright is one of them. In the past he’s brought us fantastic movies like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, and after a failed long term fling with the franchise industry after he and Marvel couldn’t see eye to eye on Ant Man, he’s returned to working within the realms of his own mind with Baby Driver. Seemingly inspired by a Mint Royale music video he directed back in 2003, can he impose his unique style onto another masterpiece?
The core concept behind the movie revolves around an ace driver who goes by the name ‘Baby’, serving as the getaway man for a series of heists planned by Doc, whom he owes money to. After he falls in love with Debora, he begins to picture his life away from crime, but it’s not as easy to get out of the business as it is to get in. It’s a fairly simple premise, but in reality the movie is anything but simple in its execution.
Baby Driver isn’t the first movie to play with soundtrack beyond just an accompanying piece to set the mood of a scene. But the depth and lengths taken to interweave the music is second to none. While it’s not a point of view movie visually, we hear the movie as if through the ears of our lead protagonist Baby, who is constantly listening to music to help him with a condition he has. It really immerses you into the movie, and helps explain a lot of what’s going on that might otherwise be lost on the viewer.
This is combined with a ridiculous level of detail through the rest of the sound, linking up what’s happening on the screen to the beat of the music. Edgar Wright’s fingerprints are all over the feel of this movie, and it is all the better for it, though at times it is a little bit of style over substance. There are some forced exposition scenes which barely try to hide why they’re in the movie, and from a traditional storytelling perspective there are some weaker moments. But they feel so minor when considering the movie as a whole because everything comes together in an artful way.
It’s not just the direction which works either. The acting across the board is stellar. Ansel Elgort plays the lead protagonist Baby, and is saddled with the type of role that needed to be executed carefully in order to work. It’s easy to see where the character of Baby could have been ruined by a lesser actor, and the timid nature of his character is excellently contrasted to when he’s behind the wheel, only for those sides to blur as we see him begin to develop through the movie.
The real fun is found in the supporting characters though. Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm both dominate the screen when they’re on, bringing a magnetism to their performances that makes for compelling viewing. It’s impressive too, because Kevin Spacey could have easily stolen the show, and both Eliza Gonzalez and Lily James bring a lot to the table when they’re given the chance. If the cast had a lot of fun on set, it shows in their performances throughout the movie. Lily and Ansel work really well together in their romantic subplot. It’s not traditional Hollywood chemistry, but it’s believable.
This is primarily an action comedy, but that doesn’t undermine the very real tension that builds towards the climax of the film. You can sense that things are slowly unravelling before the consequences begin to take shape on screen. The action picks up but never loses focus thanks to the direction of Edgar Wright, who manages to achieve the difficult challenge of creating high speed action that is exciting and also easy to follow. A focus on practical effects really shines here, and that makes the car chases all the more exciting and some of the best on screen in some time. Unfortunately the ending is a little clunky as it tries to serve two masters. It’s not quite a cop-out, but there seems to be a more powerful finish, but it’s far from a dealbreaker.
In the hands of 99% of film-makers this would be a mediocre action movie, yet factor in Edgar Wright’s signature style with the jaw dropping direction and editing and you end up with a classic. The use of both sound and soundtrack enriches an already exciting high speed movie but it never becomes so involved in its own groove that it sacrifices the stakes within the narrative. Baby Driver is an absolute blast, an artful action movie that moves to the beat of its own backing track and challenges your perception of what can be accomplished from an action movie. There is nobody else like Edgar Wright, and you won’t see another movie like Baby Driver this year.