Baby Driver (2017)
There’s rhythm in every scene of Baby Driver. And Michael Mann may want to consider early retirement because Edgar Wright lights his movies better. These are just some of the thoughts that crossed my mind during the films 113-minute running time. It becomes very apparent when watching Baby Driver that it’s not just a standard heist movie with car stunts and hard-boiled dialogue. This film is definitely something special and totally deserving of all the praise that has been heaped upon it. But then again, it’s not every day you get a story that bears all the hallmarks of a Hollywood musical, slickly and intelligently transplanted into a hybrid of the road and caper genres.
Ansel Elgort’s stars as the eponymous getaway driver, who uses music to continuously drown out the tinnitus he suffers from as a result of a childhood accident. Being on the spectrum he meticulously organises his life around his iPod playlists and records random sounds and dialogue on a Dictaphone which he then mixes with music. He is also a formidable driver who is indebted to local Atlanta criminal Doc (Kevin Spacey). Hence Baby is always “one more job” away from freedom. In his spare time Baby cares for his deaf foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) who worries about whether he’ll ever be able to get away from his obligation to Doc. Baby dreams of escaping with his waitress lover Debora (Lily James) but his plans are foiled when he called upon to drive for one more major robbery. He finds himself in the company of a worrying psychotic crew consisting of Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González), a latter-day Bonnie and Clyde as well as Bats (Jamie Foxx), a career criminal who favours shooting first and asking questions later.
Baby Driver has it all. A classic boy meets girl narrative, troubled by all the usual cinematic relationship problems. Quirky characters with hard boiled dialogue and some of the most impressive car chases and stunt work I’ve seen in two decades. There’s precious little CGI on display as the Edgar Wright chose to do as much in camera as possible with his stunt co-ordination team (Darrin Prescott, Robert Nagle, Jeremy Fry). Director of photography Bill Pope lights each scene creatively and uses a vivid colour pallet. Furthermore, Baby Driver is comfortable in its own skin and make no concessions to ratings or wider commercial interests. Hence the movie is R rated (15 in UK) which it rightly should be considering its themes and settings.
Music and sound are integral to Baby Driver and a great deal of love and attention has been invested in the sound design. Characters, tracking shots and even gun fire are syncopated to the various songs that play throughout the film. And what an intelligent and eclectic selection of classic and original material it is. The opening titles playout across Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle, with the lyrics to the song appearing on walls and street signs. A major getaway after a bank job utilises The Damned’s Neat, Neat, Neat, which for me was a blast from the past and fun to see in a US studio production. And for those who are really anal about homages and obscure references, the soundtrack even sports some classic seventies Morricone lounge music, as the protagonists enter an elevator. Furthermore, the audience gets to share Baby’s tinnitus when he gets stressed and is unplugged from his iPod.
Often when directors set out to try and create a cult movie, their deliberate contrivances are painfully obvious, usually to the films detriments (I’m looking at you The Boondock Saints). Edgar Wright comfortably and confidently allows pop culture references to bleed through into his work, because they are an intrinsic part of who he is. He can dovetail dialogue such as “Don’t feed me any more lines from Monsters Inc… it pisses me off!” into the screenplay without it raising an eyebrow from viewers. An argument by the cast over the right sort of Michael Myers Halloween mask delights rather than rankles. The reason Baby Driver works so well is because it is filled with genuine creativity, genre love and geek passion from a film maker who is honestly trying to entertain, rather than indulge his ego. Do yourself a favour and watch Baby Driver and remind yourself how good cinema is when it’s fuelled by talent and wit.