Baby Driver (2017): Written and directed by Edgar Wright. Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal. Running Time: 113 minutes.
Edgar Wright has proven himself time and time again to be a master of taking even the most mundane things- winding a camera, pouring a beer, walking through the rain, stacking dollars bills- and turning them into audiovisual punchlines. His attention to minute detail, particularly his nigh-inhuman instinct for using sound effects, marks each of the films he’s made so far, making all of them unique cinematic treats in their own right. Baby Driver, his first feature-length film since he concluded the Cornetto Trilogy with The World’s End, is no exception, reveling in all the wizardry we’ve come to expect from the man. It is a masterpiece of technical filmmaking elevated by a pitch-perfect cast, a spot-on grasp of the genres it draws from, and a mixed soundtrack that outstrips those of both Guardians of the Galaxy films combined.
Baby (yes, that is his name, or at least so he claims) is a master of all things driving; think Ryan Gosling in Drive, but several orders of magnitude better. He’s also an obsessive music lover, which is useful for him, because he’s suffered from tinnitus since his childhood, and the unending tunes in his ears helps him drown out the ringing. As a child, he made the mistake of stealing the car of Doc, a legendary planner of bank heists, and as a young adult is still working off his resulting debt by being Doc’s go-to driver for each of his increasingly elaborate plans. Now, though, he has just a few more jobs to suffer through for the crooks he spends way too much time with before he can make off with his last share and finally start a clean life.
As with all movies of this sort, of course, Baby has drastically underestimated how hard it is to shake off years of crime. No matter how hard he tries, Doc just keeps pulling him back in. At the same time, his budding romance with a waitress at his favorite diner (herself a massive music buff) makes the stakes even higher for him by giving him, for the first time, something he actually fears losing. Not that there’s anything complicated to expect plot-wise. The story is fairly barebones, so some of the twists might prove easy to call, but that’s hardly the point. These are the sorts of movies where the journey is the only destination that matters, where simply experiencing the uniqueness of the film’s aesthetic and feel is all you need to leave the theater feeling happy and satisfied.
While the car chases and firefights are gripping and expertly shot, and manage to hold their own in a year brimming with amazing action movies (no easy feat), it’s clear the bulk of the creative efforts of Wright’s team went towards cultivating the soundtrack and shaping much of the filming and editing around it. Either Baby knows his routines so well he’s sorted out the perfect tracks for every part of his day, or maybe this is simply one of those worlds where car sounds, city noise, and even gunfire all synch up of their own accord with the base line of whatever is playing on the closest radio. Even the ringing in Baby’s ears plays a role of its own in moments where the music cuts out (or its source is destroyed by an antagonist).
The casting is top-notch as well- Ansel Elgort does an amazing balancing act as Baby, carrying the sort of quiet, reserved role that could either be too boring and fade into the tapestry, or one too oddball to be taken seriously (I do not lightly compare his character to the lead of Drive). Kevin Spacey as Doc is in perfect House of Cards mode as the villain mastermind with more to him you might expect, and out of the assorted societal castoffs dregged up for each heist, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm are particularly good at stealing the limelight whenever they are in a scene.
Put simply, this film is a joy to experience from start to finish. A caution for Edgar Wright fanboys though- it’s not an out-and-out comedy, which might throw off those expecting the launch of a genre-bending new Trilogy. There are funny moments aplenty, but this is a movie more focused on making you say “Wow, COOOOL!” than making you roll on the floor. In a strange way, though, that makes it easier to note and appreciate the artistic skill at work in using every frame and splash of sound to fill out and complete a whole world and gang of characters in less than two hours. This is the sort of film that most filmmakers are only capable of piecing together once in their lifetimes, if at all, and Edgar Wright has now made five of them. He’s one of the best filmmakers in the game right now, and it might be a bit until we are treated to his next work, so see this one as soon as you can, and experience the glory that is Baby Driver.