Director – Edgar Wright
Cast – Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey
Rating – 4/5
A getaway driver with a monk-like work ethic, a waitress with a heart of gold who wants him to stick to the straight and narrow, a scheming older man played by an actor famous for playing a scheming older man on TV; this isn’t Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive – although, in some bizarre universe, it could be. This is Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, and it’s the best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road, and also, in a fun twist, the best musical since La La Land.
But you didn’t expect that, did you?
Ansel Elgort as Baby in a scene from Baby Driver.
Ansel Elgort plays Baby, in a movie that delights in giving its characters names like Bats, Buddy, Darling, and Griff. He’s a getaway driver for a criminal kingpin named Doc, played by Kevin Spacey. Baby, described conveniently by Doc, “had an accident when he was a kid, still has a hum in the drum, plays music to drown it out.” In non-movie speak, that means Baby lost his parents in a car crash when he was a child, and developed acute tinnitus, which leaves a constant humming sound in his ears. He drowns out the noise (metaphor alert) with music, stored in a collection of vintage iPods, one for every mood.
But like most movie getaway drivers, or career criminals, he wants out of the game. And when he meets Debora, a waitress at the local diner, played by Cinderella star Lily James, he decides to finally step on the gas, and hightail it across the border.
Lily James, left, and Ansel Elgort in a scene from the film, Baby Driver.
I’ve never been to the opera, nor have I ever seen a 90-piece orchestra play Beethoven. But I imagine this – the action in this movie – is what it must feel like. Baby Driver is symphonic. It’s ecstatic. It’s hypnotic. When it soars, it soars. It glides off the road, shoots into the sky, and in a handful of melodic action sequences, it lives in the clouds, leaving others (and the Fast & Furious movies) biting the dust.
But it’s not always like that. And that’s irritating, as is usually the case with movies that come so close to greatness, but swerve away after a quick graze. Despite ending on a flamboyant note, Baby Driver spends almost two-thirds of its almost two-hour runtime either idling, or cruising in fourth gear. And during those first two acts, it barely resembles an Edgar Wright movie. It spends too much time in dark rooms lit by fluorescent lights, in creaky diners glowing with neon, and not, as it should have, on the road, with shades drawn over its eyes, and tunes blasting in its ears.
Ansel Elgort, right, and Jamie Foxx in a scene from Baby Driver.
The action, when it arrives – first in short bursts, and at the end, in a cascade – is like a shot of nitrous in its pipes.
Often, you may have noticed movie trailers describing directors as ‘visionary’. I am here to tell you that it is all a lie. Like every other piece of advertising, immoral and sometimes downright criminal, those trailers are perpetuating falsehoods for profit, and stroking the egos of mediocre men.
Edgar Wright however, is the real deal. He’s as visionary as they get – right up there with other cult favourites like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Bong Joon-ho and Zack Snyder. There isn’t a frame in this movie’s action scenes that doesn’t seem as if it has been handcrafted by him. Everything, every moment, from those trademark Edgar Wright inserts and whip pans, precise to the millisecond, to the music video-style editing of the chase sequences, this is a staggering display of one man’s vision, and the loyal dedication of hundreds of others to make it a reality.
And he’s a dying breed. While most major directors are happy, for various reasons – time, efficiency, indecisiveness, studio pressure – to use temporary tracks while editing their films, Wright is the rare filmmaker who cuts his movie to the music – like Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy), Tarantino, and Guy Ritchie (Snatch). The soundtrack, which includes an unusually high number of songs (30!), is, to paraphrase Tarantino, the soul of his baby.
But here’s the thing about Baby Driver: Yes, it’s the darling of the internet right now, having built incredible buzz since its first screening at the South by Southwest Festival. And yes, Edgar Wright has gone to Dwayne Johnson levels to promote it on social media, highlighting, as he should, the film’s incredible 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. But, it’s still an Edgar Wright movie – a weird, quirky, tonally hyperactive love-letter to cinema.
Which means, it’s not for everyone.
Like his previous films, the cult classic Cornetto Trilogy, and Scott Pilgrim vs The World (all excellent), it faces rather difficult terrain in its journey into the mainstream, but if this is how the rest of the world discovers his work, then it’s not too shabby a place to start.
Watch the Baby Driver trailer here