Baby Driver

baby-driver-rev Baby Driver  (2017)    TriStar/Action-Comedy    RT: 113 minutes    Rated R (violence and language throughout)    Director: Edgar Wright    Screenplay: Edgar Wright    Music: Steven Price    Cinematography: Bill Pope    Release date: June 28, 2017 (US)    Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Flea, Lanny Joon, CJ Jones, Sky Ferriera, Paul Williams.


 In the midst of all the joyless duds featuring pirates, mummies and giant alien robots clanging into each other, Baby Driver is like a breath of fresh summer air with a hint of wildflowers. This movie is AWESOME! What’s even awesomer is that it achieves this without the use (or overuse) of flashy CGI effects. What you see happening on-screen is the work of stunt drivers NOT a bunch of nerds sitting behind computer monitors. Baby Driver is a throwback to the car chase flicks of the 70s like The Driver (I could see Walter Hill directing a movie like this) with Tarantino-style criminals, a noirish scenario and a really boss soundtrack. Music is an essential part of Baby Driver in that the action moves in time to whatever song is playing on our hero’s iPod. Baby (Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars) has a constant ringing in his ears (“a hum in the drum” as one character puts it) and wears ear buds to drown it out. His whole life moves to the beat of his music; everything happening around him becomes a part of it. It’s like La La Land with bullets and screeching tires.

baby driver Because of a past sin, Baby is obligated to serve at the pleasure of crime boss Doc (Spacey, The Usual Suspects) until his debt is paid in full. Doc heads a robbery syndicate. Much like Lawrence Tierney in Reservoir Dogs, he hires the crew and organizes the crime. Because of his superior driving skills, Baby is his go-to getaway driver. After doing what he thinks is his last job for Doc, he tries to return to a normal life. He starts a relationship with a cute diner waitress named Debora (James, Cinderella). It isn’t long at all before Doc reaches out to him to do another job and makes it clear that it’s not a request. This is why people should really pay attention to semantics. Doc only said that they were “square” upon completion of the previous job; he never said they were “done”. Naturally, this job goes south quickly.

 Car chases have been commonplace in action movies since the dawn of cinema. Thanks to CGI, there’s no real gasp factor to them anymore. They look more like a video game than a movie. As much as I like the Fast & Furious series, none of the action looks real. The last movie I can think of that used old school filmmaking techniques is Mad Max: Fury Road which didn’t exactly bowl me over. When I think of WOW-worthy car chases, To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) and Running Scared (1986) come to mind. Baby Driver has three mind-blowing car chases, all choreographed to the songs playing on Baby’s iPod. In the first sequence, watch how everything moves in time to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” from the moment the criminals step out of the car outside a bank to every tricky evasive maneuver our hero makes in avoiding capture by the police. It’s truly an exciting scene. Another great scene- my favorite, in fact- is when Baby runs from the cops while “Hocus Pocus” (by the rock group Focus) plays on the soundtrack. When the song moves fast, so does he. When it slows down, he pauses only to start running when the song picks up again. This is a brilliant creative choice on the part of writer-director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) who knocks it out of the park with this one.

 Action and music aren’t the only awesome things about Baby Driver. Wright, who takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the material, directs like Mozart composing a symphony. He pays close attention to every single note; it’s fine-tuned right down to the smallest detail so it sounds exactly like he intends. Take the casting. Elgort and James are perfectly cast as a couple of all-American kids who only want to drive off into the sunset together towards a happily-ever-after that might not be in the cards. Not only are they a good-looking couple, they have fantastic chemistry. They’re not just believable as a couple, they’re also immensely likable. You root for them because you want them to have a happy ending and not because it’s mandated by the screenplay. Spacey is terrific as the crime boss you do not want to cross. His calm demeanor and the flat affect with which he delivers his lines belie the violence of which he’s capable. Jamie Foxx (Ray) plays a character named Bats, a most-perfect nickname as it turns out. He projects quiet menace at all times whether he’s ordering a Coke or threatening an accomplice. These characters could have easily been overplayed to point of scenery-devouring camp but Wright doesn’t allow that to happen. He even fills minor roles, like a sweet postal worker, with just the right actors. The actor who plays Baby’s deaf foster dad (CJ Jones) really is deaf.

 In less capable hands, the different story elements would work against each other. Wright finds a perfect balance and maintains it throughout the entirety of Baby Driver. It’s funny, thrilling, violent and suspenseful. It’s packed to the edges with action. The technical aspects- e.g. cinematography, editing and sound- are all top-notch. The action scenes are very well-mounted. It never feels like it’s overlong or dragged out. The supporting characters- e.g. husband-and-wife criminals Buddy (Hamm, Mad Men) and Darling (Gonzalez, the TV series From Dusk till Dawn)- don’t feel superfluous. Baby Driver is one of those movies where everything perfectly falls into place. It’s sheer pleasure! When’s the last time you felt that in a multiplex? It brings back the joy of watching a cool movie with a crowd of strangers and really getting into it. Baby Driver isn’t just the best movie of the summer, it’s one of the best movies of the year. 

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