Rating: A+, my friend.
Synopsis: The last few jobs of a young heist driver’s career.
Yoooooo. I’m declaring Baby Driver as my favorite movie of 2017 or at least the first half of 2017. This is the sleeper hit of the summer and the year.
I’m so glad Edgar Wright is back. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t hear about Baby Driver until late May and that’s mostly because I check in on Wright’s upcoming projects every now and then on IMDB. With all the big noise this year about Justice League, Thor, Guardians, Apes, and others, Baby Driver got lost somewhere in the shuffle. Don’t be a fool and miss this movie. Wright’s Ant-man rebound is a highly original in concept, detail, and made with love.
The plot is simple: Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young, extraordinary driver, who once stole a car from Doc (Kevin Spacey). Doc blackmailed Baby, who is now serving as a getaway driver for his various cronies (Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez). This is expertly weaved in and out with Baby’s budding relationship with Debora (Lily James) and his relationship with his foster father Joe (CJ Jones). We’ll get into those bits later. We need to talk about the technical aspects of this movie because there are so many different moving parts that work together so well.
One of the reasons I love Wright’s work is that he never underestimates the intelligence of his audience- he has some of the best craftwork in exposition and foreshadowing in the past ten years. He’s able to cram a lot of information into a shot without it being overwhelming and without his dialogue spelling things out. Wright always immerses you into his world by allowing you to soak in the visuals. The first fifteen to twenty minutes of Baby Driver are perfect examples. From the choreography to the stunt work to the cinematography, it’s filmmaking at its finest. After kicking off the movie with a high-speed chase scene with some trademark Wright edits and music timing accompanying impressive car stunts, we’re treated to Baby’s obsession with music in a perfectly-timed walk down the street, shown in one take. The non-verbal exposition is astounding in this movie and Baby Driver is a joy to watch, with little to no dull moments.
Sound plays a huge role in the development and unfolding of the plot in both diegetic and nondiegetic manners. The character of Baby has a hearing impediment due a car crash when he was younger, which left him with a constant ringing in his ear. Baby drowns out the ringing by blasting music and this serves as the movie’s soundtrack. Wright has always had fun with sound and consistently uses well-timed cuts, edits, or actions, but never to this extent. We hear the music and the sounds in the movie as Baby is hearing it- whenever he removes his earbud, the music grows softer and the ringing grows. As a result, the audience becomes more connected to the character and more invested in the story. This is further emphasized in Baby’s relationship with Joe, his deaf foster father. In what would otherwise serve as a throwaway relationship or exploitative disability in other movies, Wright uses their ability to communicate to highlight the closeness of the characters and it provides a fullness to the character of Baby. It’s a smart move by Wright and a rich highlight of the sense itself.
The practical effects are also obviously a big winner here, with no CGI in sight. It’s like Mad Max: City of Banks. With some expert drivers, Wright pulls off fantastic tracking shots and the editing is so clean and cohesive. I’m sensing a bunch of technical awards for Baby Driver and it would be well deserved. There’s also a generous amount of flashbacks of Baby’s mother, which are used in several different forms (sound, song, visuals). When I say generous, I don’t mean over the top or overwhelming- the use of flashbacks is meaningful here and pop up whenever Baby has bee triggered by something that reminds him of her. Unlike a certain movie I reviewed last week, these flashbacks are used to move things forward and motivate Baby to perform his next set of actions.
There are very few weak spots in this movie, though most of the characters other than Baby are generic because the effort was obviously placed elsewhere. And I could have used more Bernthal! We all could in regular day life! All of the acting is solid, with Gonzalez being the weakest link. To be fair, her character could have been more interesting and her relationship with the much-older Hamm (19 years, to be exact) is out of place. There’s some unnecessary detail about Hamm’s character and the time should have gone to Doc instead. The young chemistry between James and Elgort is sweet and genuine, reminiscent of True Romance without being over the top. Elgort is the film’s unexpected gem, with both acting and stunt work. I could be wrong, but it looks like he pulled off most (if not all) his own freerunning stunts. I haven’t seen his other work but I’m sensing a bright future for him.
Baby Driver definitely has a more serious, adult tone than Wright’s other work, but it’s just as much fun. Wright has evolved so much from Shaun of the Dead. Considering how good that was and still is, it’s clear he’s one of the best directors working right now. I can only imagine the quality of his next work. It gives me hope that something like Baby Driver with all of its originality, practical car stunts, smart craftwork, and action sequences can exist in the same summer as a Transformers movie. It just shows that the magic of cinema still exists, especially when put in the hands of a nerd who believes in it. Edgar, make more movies!
Edit: I recommend this article by Chris O’Falt on IndieWire for more insight into the meticulous planning and process that went into filming the chase sequences, as well as Wright’s opinion on action pieces.