There are many things to admire about Director Edgar Wright. He’s an incredible young visionary that writes and directs with such verve and candor that it’s impossible to mistake his work for someone else. That’s what I love most about Wright, how singular his vision is. From Shaun of the Dead to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – he’s never compromised (which is probably why his Ant-Man movie never happened) and if you ride for his style you should be very excited about Baby Driver.
Wright’s new film about a headphone clad millennial called Baby who drives gangsters away from heist jobs is his essence distilled to its finest core. What Wright has made is his most straight-forward action movie that of course…is also a hybrid musical. Every beat of Baby Driver was storyboarded down to the second to Wright’s musical choices – an idea he claims the oldest he’s ever had. The choreography cannot be understated – it’s brilliant, like cars dancing in parallel through the streets of Atlanta. Couple that with the only movie soundtrack that has mattered for decades and the musicality bleeds off the screen.
Ansel Elgort is the titular Baby – a twee kid with a slight southern accent and an intense ringing between his ears he’s had since he was a kid. He uses music (in one of the film’s finer touches, he carries several bedazzled iPods with him) to drown out the ring but also to gain some semblance of control in the criminal underworld. Baby works for Doc (a prosperous looking Kevin Spacey) – a man with seemingly unchecked power and influence who also really likes to rob banks. Baby screwed up trying to rip off Doc’s car at a younger age and has been playing getaway driver to pay him back ever since.
Through this tight, rocking spectacle we are introduced to several more slummy gangsters as Doc never uses the same crew twice (but does not seem to mind mixing crews, the rules aren’t really that important.) The faces we see most often are Buddy (Jon Hamm,) Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx.) All of them are equal parts endeared to Baby and his stone-faced demeanor and slightly perturbed. Bats especially thinks Baby is above all of this and never once removes him from his side-eye stare.
Baby’s only other interaction with the outside world is his obvious crush Debora (Lily James) who he hits on frequently at a roadside diner. They bond over music and Baby’s general lack of the spoken word (the strong, silent type indeed.) It’s a cute relationship that could’ve added a little more depth with some additional exploration (this isn’t something Wright as ever really explored and in this movie that’s certainly not his intent.)
But Baby Driver isn’t about plot, it’s about tone and structure. It’s not hyperbole to say the first 10-minutes of this film are so virtuosic that it’s difficult for the remainder to live up to it. As “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion rips through the theater speakers we get our first glimpse of baby in action. His 3 gangster cohorts finish the job and hop into his red Subaru WRX getaway car. Baby flies through the streets of Atlanta, drifting around corners and through alleys, narrowly avoiding the cops, every beat synced perfectly to the music. The scene ends with the 4 swinging into a parking garage, switching cars and collecting their cut.
It’s exactly what a summer action movie should be. Wright is celebrating his medium with these joyous scenes of automobile chaos. This isn’t Fast and Furious with a deep mythology and ridiculous CGI-stunts, this is much more The Italian Job or French Connection for the modern era. Wright is an optimist and it’s so refreshing to see him fight for his vision and make the movies he wants. There is no cynicism or blockbuster nihilism onscreen, just pure unabashed smiles. That’s why I go to the movies and I’d watch Mozart in a Go-Kart rip like that any day.