Originally published on Trevor Trove on July 3, 2017
TL; DR(eview) – Baby Driver is an incredibly well-choreographed action/heist movie with some great central and supporting performances and arguably the best incorporation of a movie’s soundtrack into the film itself.
Baby Driver is the latest film from Edgar Wright and tells the story of Baby, a young getaway driver played by Ansel Elgort. At a young age, Baby was in a tragic car accident that left him orphaned and with a case of tinnitus so he’s constantly listening to music to drown out the ringing in his ears. “A devil behind the wheel” he fell into the ever-rotating crew assembled by mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) when he inadvertently boosted his car and the illicit cargo in the trunk.
When the film begins, Baby has nearly repaid his debt to Doc by working for him heist after heist and Baby is hoping that he’ll finally be free after these last couple jobs. But of course he has proven too valuable to Doc, so Doc continues to insist on enlisting Baby’s expertise, especially when it becomes clear he can use Baby’s deaf foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) or blossoming romance with a diner waitress Debora (Lily James) as leverage. Baby and Debora dream of escaping their respective lives to drive west on the I-20 and never look back, but escaping the criminal life won’t be that simple.
Edgar Wright, like James Gunn and the Guardians of the Galaxy series, has an incredible penchant for using music in his films. But where Gunn often uses a song to set the tone of a scene, Wright meticulously choreographs the action to the beat of the music. The opening of Baby Driver features three distinct examples of this. The first getaway car chase has Baby driving through the streets of Atlanta as the wheelman for Griff, Buddy, and his lover Darling (Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, and Eiza González, respectively) to the tune “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The couple minutes of the song introduces Baby in the car playing on the steering wheel and lip syncing/air violining to the tune while the other three rob a bank. Then once the song picks up, the chase is on and Baby races through the town evading cops at every turn to the beat of the music.
This is followed by a sequence wherein Baby walks around the block from the heist headquarters to grab coffees for his crewmembers in an extended take set to Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle.” I imagine I’d have to watch the sequence back multiple times to catch everything but lyrics from the song seemed to be appearing in dialogue overheard by background performers on the street as well as visually in the street art Baby passed by too and from the coffee shop. And there’s still room for flourishes like taking a moment to mime playing a trumpet right in front of a music shop perfectly in line with the trumpet in the storefront window. I frequently associate Edgar Wright with a lot of quick and snappy edits in his film style but I walked out of Baby Driver thinking back on longer, uncut (or at least masked cut) sequences like this one. Still recognizably his, but somewhat of an evolution of the aesthetic.
Thirdly, a sequence set to “Smokey Joe’s La La” by Google René showcases Baby’s homelife as he dances around his apartment taking care of his deaf, wheelchair-bound foster father. Here, we see the same kind of endearing carefree attitude as his walk to and from the coffee shop. But we now get the added perspective of Baby as a caretaker, communicating with Joseph through sign language amidst the dancing and ensuring that the peanut butter on his sandwiches are spread all the way to the edges, just like Joseph likes.
This is just a small sampling of how intricately Wright uses music in every facet of the film to drive the characters and action forward and they all happen within the movie’s first fifteen minutes.
Elgort absolutely shines as Baby; juggling his stoic loner persona around the criminal scene and trying to keep that world at arm’s length as much as he can, his charm and earnestness when with Joseph or Debora, and his ruthless efficiency behind the wheel. Spacey is reliably excellent as the mastermind Doc, delivering that sense of danger hidden in an otherwise mild-mannered visage that he’s all-but-perfected over his career. Lily James carries the bulk of dialogue amidst the relationship between Debora and Baby (as he points out when they first go out to a laundrymat, he’s spoken more to her in one night than everyone else for the year) and the two have a natural chemistry together.
Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm (as Bats and Buddy) are also excellent in their supporting roles playing two different variations of the unhinged criminal. Foxx is the hyper-violent lunatic unafraid of dropping a body or ten as collateral damange while Hamm relishes in the thrill of the criminal lifestyle but can turn on a dime and easily transition into brutality. As Darling says, “when he sees red, all you’ll see is black.”
Baby Driver might be my favorite movie of 2017. The pacing of the film is fantastic and I found myself with a smile on my face for nearly the entirety of its roughly two-hour runtime, in part because there’s a lot of great little humor sprinkled throughout but mostly because the amount of care put into the film by Wright and his collaborators is apparent in every single frame. There was a slight character turn in the third act that I think felt a little out of place with what had come before but that’s an incredibly minor gripe when compared to all the places the film excels. And yes, I absolutely bought the soundtrack as soon as I left the theatre for the drive home.