Baby Driver (2017) Review

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Baby Driver (2017)
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenwriter: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Kevin Spacey

Baby Driver is the latest movie from Edgar Wright, the creative mind behind the camera for each movie in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), as well as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and stars teen heartthrob Ansel Elgort encountering the colourful personalities of a stacked cast of supporting talent that includes Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Kevin Spacey.

Telling the tale of a young-man with Tinnitus (described as “a hum in the drum” for poetic purposes) being sucked into heist after heist as repayment for a debt owed to a mob boss (Spacey), Baby Driver roars its way into your consciousness courtesy of some excellent sound mixing, a killer soundtrack and Edgar Wright’s abundantly original premise and delivery that has this particular summer movie feeling like La La Land on wheels.

In much the same way as the rest of Edgar Wright’s filmography, Baby Driver is crammed full with references to the filmmaker’s personal favourite movies, with Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971) being prevalent reference points throughout, yet these obvious inspirations and the film’s references to them don’t come across as if a spoof of their concepts and techniques in the same way as Shaun of the Dead did, nor does the film rely upon self-reflection and referencing in the same ways that Hot Fuzz and The World’s End did. The result of this is a totally original conception of what the filmmaker has described as ‘a passion project 20 years in the making’, that combines musical elements with fast-paced action, car chases and bank heists to create a naturally comedic tone that affords Wright the room to flourish with his traditionally comic sensibilities.

It is indeed comedy that is the film’s central focus, and despite cleverly weaving a number of other elements into the movie – including the finality and trauma of death, as well as the thriller/drama elements that encompass this – it is in typical Edgar Wright fashion that the comedy elements of the film become all encompassing by the film’s end. The result here is perhaps less effective than in the rest of this director’s filmography as it seems only to unravel much of the movie’s more investable story strands in favour of an almost too over-the-top finale filled with laughs and action but somewhat lacking in stakes. Wright uses this conclusion in such a way that unravels all reasonable character development and storied reality, playing these moments like a dream sequence filled with scenes plucked directly from the movies and music that inspired the film, enhancing the musical elements (and therefore the fantasy and comedy elements) of the picture entirely at the expense of the more dramatic elements, creating a funny and uplifting send-off that matters little to the overall journey of the central character and his ongoing narrative.

This is not to suggest that it ruins the film, as it most certainly does not, and his creative decision to shift the focus into a more fantastical realm was one preempted by the groundwork the screenwriter-director had laid out in the movie’s opening two acts. In fact, the final act placed a heavy focus upon the movie’s extraordinary sound mixing, ensuring audiences got their fill of the movie’s impressive musical elements, with the side-by-side sequencing of gun shots, car squeels and car crashes with the music of the central character’s iPod being wholly impressive and terrifically original.

In Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey in particular, Wright’s casting of the movie’s secondary characters was close to perfect, with each of the titular Baby’s fellow heist-men (and women) being their own brand of unusual in a typically Edgar Wright sense. Central protagonists Ansel Elgort and Lily James were also impressive in their roles, but their presence at the centre of the piece seemed unusual and somewhat not-befitting of the overall picture. The idea here was to clearly establish Elgort’s Baby as the baby of the group (hence the title) and to tell a coming-of-age story we can all relate to, yet Baby was an unusual and almost old fashioned young man whose music tastes may have been respectable, but were certainly not relateable – even to the most hipster of young people – and his wardrobe echoed this. Baby Driver tried to explain the music taste and presentation of the character by ensuring we knew that he was an outcast from an unusual background, though it seemed more like Wright had created a middle-aged man in a young person’s skin – like the creation of someone looking to relive their youth in more exciting, musically-inspired circumstances – and the overall presentation of the film (including its many homages) echoed this, creating the sense of a silly adult film along the same lines as the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy that leaves the question of whether younger audiences, particularly teenage audiences, will be fully able to identify with that.

Baby Driver is, then, a creative picture with some extraordinary sound mixing and enough fun to please even the most hard-nosed of film goers. Its musical elements are fantastically woven into the film and some of the secondary characters are show-stealing good, yet the movie remains problematic in terms of what it is trying to be and the ways in which it feels self-indulgent through its characterisation of Baby, making its raving reviews across the board more indicative of the influential middle-class, middle-aged male who dominates film criticism and will clearly identify with such a character, more than it does the creativity and fun that Baby Driver quite clearly possesses. Even so, “La La Land on wheels” remains an accurate representation of a film that should be considered one of this summer’s best movies. A very good picture, but not quite as good as you’ve heard…

17/24