Whilst he is commonly known as a director and writer, I believe that King of X meets Y film-making, Edgar Wright, might as well be called a genre mixologist. His films never fit exactly into one category, blending together to create something that, for me at least, is pretty much always perfect. With a resume including the comedy-meets-zombie horror of Shaun of the Dead or the romance-meets-indie action of Scott Pilgrim versus the World, the big-budget promise of Baby Driver left many wondering if what could be described as simply a heist movie was going to live up to its forefathers.
But Baby Driver is anything but simple. A 70s-action thriller come dark comedy come old-fashioned romance, Baby Driver smashed my already high expectations, and left them in the dust.
For a movie that is completely driven (pardon the pun) by its soundtrack, appropriately it all began 22 years ago with a song; specifically when Wright heard ‘Bellbottoms’ by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a key track in the film. The film follows Ansel Elgort as Baby, a lucky-charm getaway driver for Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) revolving crime ring of bank robbers. Doc promises “one last job” before Baby’s debt is paid, and he can literally drive off into the sunset with his girlfriend, Deborah the waitress (Lily James), but it’s hardly a spoiler to say that it’s never just one last job.
The film is not only seen through Elgort’s eyes but heard through his ears. With an iPod for every mood and scenario (even his “pink and sparkly” ones), Baby uses his music both to get him in gear for his getaways but also to drown out tinnitus from a childhood accident, the sound of which underlies when the music momentarily stops. In a relatively silent role, Elgort has the task of being stoic and dangerous, vulnerable and charming – all with minimal lines. He does this perfectly, holding the cameras’ focus despite coming up against such formidable co-stars as Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. This role seems the perfect breakaway from what has so far been a career in YA films such as The Fault in Our Stars and The Divergent Trilogy, but it also fits almost too neatly with his side career as a DJ (just check out his Instagram; trust me, I do). The cast’s first read of the script was accompanied by music, even acting with earwigs to feed them the soundtrack, so that every word, gun shot and tyre screech are so perfectly synchronised and choreographed. I felt tension in my shoulders that I’ve not felt since Whiplash.
Hamm and Foxx feature as Bats and Buddy, two members of the crime gang who become progressively more unhinged and psychotic as the film progresses, acting as a dark shadow to the inherent morality of Baby, who is unwavering even when surrounded by crime. Lily James is practically effervescing with wholesome goodness and youthful idealism, my one complaint being that her character lacks screen time. Deborah and Baby’s song-based romance is old-fashioned, sweet and tender, counteracting the increasingly dark main plot and Wright’s trademark gore and violence.
In the first 5 minutes, Baby Driver already kicks it into 6th gear and, by Jove, it stays there for the whole 113 minutes. Despite being a nostalgic throwback to the action movies of yore, Baby Driver is a musical where the gun shots are the lyrics and the cars are the dancers. It left my face switching from horror to laughter as fast as Baby’s turns, proving that Wright’s latest exploration into the dizzy lands of American car chases still retains his magic mix of action, romance and a smile.