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Baby Driver – The Driver Meets True Romance

MOVIE REVIEW – Ansel Elgort takes the wheel, as a getaway driver in Edgar Wright’s music-driven cops-and-robbers romance, co-starring Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm. Wright’s surprise hit is a smart and stylish crime story which has influences from one the best classics of Walter Hill and Quentin Tarantino and also a bit of Grand Theft Auto V.

 

“I had to make a movie called Baby Driver just to prove to you that The Driver is influential,” – confessed Edgar Wright to Walter Hill in a conversation between the veteran of classic noir movies and the younger director. The 1978 car-chase thriller, The Driver influenced a lot Baby Driver indeed, but smartly, having influences of other classic movies as well and of course, Baby Driver has its own, original style.

The getaway driver

If you haven’t seen The Driver, I strongly advise to see this underrated classic, not only because you will enjoy Baby Driver even more, but it’s an excellent car chase, neo-noir thriller on its own which also influenced video games like Driver from 1999. The main character, played by Ryan O’Neil in The Driver is a bit of a model to Baby Driver’s taciturn, professional getaway driver hero too, played by Ansel Elgort.

However, while The Driver was basic bad ass character (also based on Alain Delon’s The Samurai from Jean-Pierre Melville) Ansel Elgort’s “Baby” has a lot more depth. He’s true prodigy of car driving and escaping the police, but he’s also a sensible kid who had a tragic past (his parents were killed in a car accident where he also got hurt, and for that reason, he’s addicted to listening to music).

Baby somehow wound up indebted to Spacey’s Doc, a criminal plotter much like Lawrence Tierney’s character in Reservoir Dogs. Doc hires a different crew for every daring robbery he plans, but Baby is always the wheelman. As the story gets rolling, Baby owes Doc just one more job before his debt is paid.

Baby almost always listens to music but never drives a getaway car without first cueing up the appropriate tune. Though always aware of his surroundings, he rarely pulls earbuds out of his ears: The music drowns out chronic tinnitus and gives Wright an opportunity to treat many sequences like music videos or musical set pieces, going so far as to sync gunshots to drum beats.

True Romance

Baby’s a fella of few words, but what syllables he manages to drawl melt the heart of a diner waitress, Debora (Lily James), who looks like a lot like Shelly from the Twin Peaks series. The two bond over their shared taste in music and Baby soon decides he’ll take the money he makes on his final job and whisk her off on a never-ending road trip. But Doc has different plans…

Baby, of course, is coerced out of his new retirement, forced to pull another job with Buddy (Hamm, whose name offers the first four letters of the adjective best describing his enthusiastically villainous performance), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and the appropriately named Bats (Jaime Foxx, bringing some enjoyable loose-cannon danger to the crew). But this job starts to go sour during the planning phase, jeopardizing not just Baby’s planned trip down Route 66 but the lives of his loved ones.

Car-chase opera

The extraordinary thing about Baby Driver is evidenced in the first minutes of the remarkable opening sequence. As Bellbottoms kicks in and Baby (Elgort) launches into an exquisitely choreographed, full-throttle car chase set-piece, it becomes apparent that this is not a film just set to music. But a film meticulously, ambitiously laid over the bones of carefully chosen tracks. It’s as close to a car-chase opera as you’ll ever see on screen.

What’s more, Wright orchestrates his action like it’s being primed for a Technicolor musical, which is completely understandable given that he tagged performance artist, choreographer, and designer Ryan Heffington for the assist behind the scenes. Having worked with everyone from Sia to Florence + The Machine to director Spike Jonze, Heffington knows how to wrench the emotion out of any piece of movement, and his agency is all over the very music-heavy and very swiftly paced Baby Driver.

The almost perfect cast

The style is nothing, however, without substance, and Wright was fortunate enough to have a cast that understood exactly what was going on inside his head, specifically Elgort. Sure, the young actor is no stranger to larger-than-life productions, having starred in both the Carrie remake and The Divergent Series, but his performance feels like a total breakthrough.

Elgort does all the heavy lifting and rises above each challenge, whether it’s interpretive dancing through Atlanta’s city streets or leaping through department stores like he’s a real-life Peter Parker. His chemistry with Lily James is intensely palpable, too.

Meanwhile, veteran buffs like Spacey, Hamm, and Foxx turn a blind eye on their shiny trophies and revel in the bizarre archetypes they’ve been painted within. All three are fabulous, but Hamm gets the most to work with here as Buddy.

I saw her before

The only real flaw — and let’s deal with that right away — lies with the almost-Lynchian Deborah. In fact, she seems to be the perfect copycat of young Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) from 1990’s Season 1 and 2 of Twin Peaks. She is the perfect outlet for Baby’s unspoken desires, but often has a little agency of her own. While Baby is a whole lot more than being just a Ryan O’Neil copycat, Deborah is indeed just an empty copy of Twin Peaks Shelly.

There are tantalizing glimpses of a backstory — empathizing with Baby on being a carer — but the details are unspoken, the chance to add depth to her character lost. Poignantly, during a discussion of songs that share her name, she says, “It’s not really about me,” and then later to Baby, “Every song is about you.” As they sit in the dinner his mom worked in, the iPod she bought in his palm, you sense that this isn’t entirely about her either.

Another minor issue is the ending of the movie, which feels a tad too conventional.

Victory

Those minor issues aside, it’s rare these days to see a high-concept genre experience like Baby Driver, and it’s even rarer to see one that hasn’t been retooled to death. That’s a sad and cruel fate Wright knows too well; after all, this film arrives in the wake of his severed ties to Marvel’s Ant-Man, another passion project of his that was seemingly decided upon by committee-based filmmaking. With that in mind, Baby Driver feels like even more of a victory for the guy, seeing as it’s a big-budget action film that’s tied to zero intellectual property outside of his name and the stars he aligned. That we live in an era where ingenuity is considered a surprise win and something like this can still be seen as a risk is totally asinine and unreal, but hey, the good news is that we also live in an era where filmmakers like Edgar Wright exist.

-BadSector-

MOVIE REVIEW - Ansel Elgort takes the wheel, as a getaway driver in Edgar Wright's music-driven cops-and-robbers romance, co-starring Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm. Wright's surprise hit is a smart and stylish crime story which has influences from one the best classics of Walter Hill and Quentin Tarantino and also a bit of Grand Theft Auto V.   “I had to make a movie called Baby Driver just to prove to you that The Driver is influential,” - confessed Edgar Wright to Walter Hill in a conversation between the veteran of classic noir movies and the younger director.…
Those minor issues aside, it’s rare these days to see a high-concept genre experience like Baby Driver, and it’s even rarer to see one that hasn’t been retooled to death. That’s a sad and cruel fate Wright knows too well; after all, this film arrives in the wake of his severed ties to Marvel’s Ant-Man, another passion project of his that was seemingly decided upon by committee-based filmmaking. With that in mind, Baby Driver feels like even more of a victory for the guy, seeing as it’s a big-budget action film that’s tied to zero intellectual property outside of his name and the stars he aligned. That we live in an era where ingenuity is considered a surprise win and something like this can still be seen as a risk is totally asinine and unreal, but hey, the good news is that we also live in an era where filmmakers like Edgar Wright exist.

Baby Driver

Directing - 8.9
Acting - 8.4
Story - 7.9
Visuals/Audio - 9.2
Ambiance - 9.2

8.7

EXCELLENT

Those minor issues aside, it’s rare these days to see a high-concept genre experience like Baby Driver, and it’s even rarer to see one that hasn’t been retooled to death. That’s a sad and cruel fate Wright knows too well; after all, this film arrives in the wake of his severed ties to Marvel’s Ant-Man, another passion project of his that was seemingly decided upon by committee-based filmmaking. With that in mind, Baby Driver feels like even more of a victory for the guy, seeing as it’s a big-budget action film that’s tied to zero intellectual property outside of his name and the stars he aligned. That we live in an era where ingenuity is considered a surprise win and something like this can still be seen as a risk is totally asinine and unreal, but hey, the good news is that we also live in an era where filmmakers like Edgar Wright exist.

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