by Benjamín Harguindey
Review of Baby Driver (2017), directed by Edgar Wright. UK / USA.
The latest film from British comedy filmmaker Edgar Wright, Baby Driver is a send-up of the gritty 70s films about heists and chases, with a cool 50s greaser hero (complete with a diner waitress for a girlfriend) and a soundtrack from all over the century. It’s a lot of fun.
Wright is of course the director behind Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013), in which he satirized the zombie flick, the buddy cop flick and the body snatcher sci-fi flick, respectively. Not that Wright stops at mere parody. What he usually does is devise a story about his characters first, then leave the backdoor open for the genre bits to quietly slip in. Shaun of the Dead is really a British sitcom into which zombies have intruded. Hot Fuzz, together with its protagonist, is in stalwart denial of its action movie heritage until the very end. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) turns into a videogame now and then. Etc.
Baby Driver is more of the real article. It’s about Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young getaway driver coerced into a series of heists for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). As the movie begins, Baby knocks off another heist by driving fellow robbers Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González) and Griff (Jon Bernthal) and smartly losing the fuzz. “One more job and I’m done,” says Baby. “One more job and we’re straight,” corrects Doc. He doesn’t want to lose the golden egg goose. Baby is that good.
The working gimmick here is that Baby listens to music 24/7, originally to drown out the tinnitus – a consequence of a childhood car crash – but nowadays as a means of choreographing his every move, whether he’s dancing on the way to get coffee or speeding away from the police. We hear whatever he’s listening to, and the world around him obliges by fluctuating in the same rhythm. Even the bullets are fired on beat with the film’s soundtrack. Would the characters also sing along, the movie could be called an action musical.
You can see this kind of comedy synesthesia in every other of Edgar Wright’s movies, though this is definitely the first one to be one massive synesthetic experience. Is it perhaps too gimmicky? The conceit is that Baby’s deafening condition has made him overly reliant on scoring every aspect of his life with the right soundtrack, which can both empower him – as demonstrated in hot pursuit – and cripple him as well, if he can’t find the right track for the right moment, or feels like rewinding the song until the rest of world falls in sync.
From afar Baby looks and acts like a millennial hipster – shades up, always plugged to his iPod and behaving with what might be construed as ironic irreverence. At least that’s what he looks like to his fellow criminals, never mind that Doc insists on vouching for him. Baby’s biggest antagonist is shaped up to be Bats (Jamie Foxx), the kind of psycho that is alarmingly indifferent to the consequences of his brutality. Buddy and Darling are a bit more sympathetic, at least until they’re given reason not to. Watching the dynamic between all of these colorful characters shift and unfold in such unpredictable yet logical manner is intriguing, but also makes an unlikely twist involving Doc more annoying than it should.
The lead romantic duo is more dull than, say, Buddy and Darling, who treat every heist like they’re on their honeymoon. Ansel Elgort is trapped playing the archetypal greaser. So is Lily James as Debora, the waitress he courts and the symbol of the freedom he craves. He’s cool and she’s sunny (and doesn’t she bear an uncanny resemblance to Mädchen Amick as Twin Peaks‘ Shelly Johnson, by the way?). Both are likable characters, but the romance is barely developed past a couple of cute moments.
Baby Driver is made with the kind of meticulous care and polish you won’t find in other similar-in-premise films of this day and age. The action is clean-cut. The effects are practical. Cars turn and shift gears all in one shot. Never mind the frenetic shaky cam nonsense that permeates the action scene in, say, a Paul W. S. Anderson flick. Wright knows what he’s doing and plays every shot accordingly, whether it’s for laughs or to the tune of his baby-faced hero’s playlist.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).