Hold on to ya Bellbottoms
Baby Driver is a high-energy action drama with comedic elements, written and directed by Edgar Wright and starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx. The film features a young man named Baby (Elgort), who works as a highly-skilled getaway driver for crime boss Doc (Spacey). Baby suffers from tinnitus, a ringing sensation in the ears, and plays music from his various mixtapes to drown this out. After performing multiple heists, Baby falls for a local waitress, Debora (James), and plans to make one final getaway with his newfound love. The film takes us into Baby’s world as he encounters some unsurprising conflict from Doc, other members of his heist team, the police, as well as his tortured past.
On a list of the best Hollywood directors working today, it’d be almost offensive not to include British writer/director Edgar Wright, known best for directing a trilogy of films starring comedic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, the World’s End), as well as the critically-acclaimed Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Wright’s quick-paced, fast-cutting, action comedy style has allowed him to reach cult status among fans and critics alike, despite his major films so far performing poorly relative to the giant cape-clad blockbusters of today. Known particularly for his creative visual storytelling, there’s actually more than enough reasons to be excited about a new Edgar Wright film. With his first wide-release film to be shot in the United States, can he drive up the box office numbers with another home run?
Is Baby Driver a wildly original movie? Definitely. Does the star-studded cast deliver a fantastic performance overall? Undoubtedly. Is this Edgar Wright’s best film? This might be an unpopular opinion, but I’d say no, not by a long shot. However, what Edgar Wright and his team has achieved with Baby Driver is nothing short of unprecedented. While most other films collect footage through principal photography and reshoots before having a composer create a score or soundtrack, Baby Driver’s production team did the opposite: picking a series of funky beats and tantalising tunes first, before choreographing every action sequence in every scene to fit the selected music. What results is an extremely entertaining set of car chases, foot chases, and shootouts. And though the consistency suffers from a rushed romance between Ansel Elgort and Lily James’ characters, overall there is still much to be enjoyed for any Edgar Wright fan, music fan, or simply anyone wanting a major breath of fresh air.
All the Wright Beats
Ansel Elgort isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the ‘leading man’ in a Hollywood film. But the Fault in our Stars actor absolutely shines as Baby, carrying the film on his shoulders with an unwavering focus and confidence. Also a powerful on-screen presence is Kevin Spacey’s Doc, as the Oscar winner looks to be relishing the role of an intimidating, witty crime boss. But next to Mr Elgort, the soundtrack itself is the biggest character in the film, peaking and troughing vigorously, but never in a jarring way, a result of the detailed choreography. The energy provided by the various high tempo tracks allows us to remain on the edge of our seats for as long as the action set pieces are being shown on screen, while character movements, car stunts and gunshots are often timed perfectly to the beat, giving us further satisfaction from this orderly chaos. The music gives the film its own unique personality and tone, a beast that can only be controlled by a director of Edgar Wright’s calibre. Fans of his will be delighted to know that the film contains its fair share of ‘Wright-isms’, though surprisingly they do not seem to pop up as often as in his other films.
Dropping the Baby
There’s no getting around the fact that the well-choreographed, in-sync action scenes are pretty astounding, and this was undoubtedly a huge undertaking for the entire cast and crew. This is why it’s disappointing that the quieter scenes didn’t quite give us the emotional one-two that they should have. Specifically, Baby’s relationship with Debora is one of the weaker storylines in the film, and it’s not because Lily James isn’t terrific in her role. That, she is. But the writing of her character comes off as slightly one-note and undercooked, as her interactions with Baby aren’t always a welcome alternative to the high-octane action we just experienced in a previous scene. Unfortunately, the film loses a lot of its momentum whenever we cut back to the Baby-Debora scenes, giving the film some spells of uneven pacing. While we’re on the topic of Baby’s love life, the film seems to have a thread of love weaving through its third act, meaning that several characters make critical decisions ‘because of love’. And while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in most cases, it is a strange departure of themes because the film was marketed as a heist-heavy, cat-and-mouse-style narrative. The sudden switch in the plot’s direction was a bold move, but it didn’t quite stick the way the production team wanted it to, adding a small layer of inconsistency to the film.
While the auditory cinematic achievement in Baby Driver is worthy of all the praise it’s received, the film is ultimately prevented from being Edgar Wright’s personal best by its inconsistent pacing. One can only wonder if this aspect suffered as a result of the passion and meticulous care that went into the action sequences. At any rate, it will be an unpopular opinion that Baby Driver is a great, but far-from-perfect film, not quite reaching the high bar set by Scott Pilgrim vs the World. But let’s look at the big picture here. More importantly, Baby Driver is as original as its going to get for a Hollywood saturated with reboots, remakes, cinematic universes and sequels, and what better way to encourage creative minds to think of more original ideas then to support an original film, especially one made by such a well-known director and cast. With its special production approach, Baby Driver has made its way into a corner of cinema history, and will serve as a model for other films to think ambitiously, paving the way for more innovation in the future of film.
Overall Rating: 7.2/10