In the wake of the American cultural phenomenon known as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (or the man himself as some may call it), it comes to no surprise that future filmmakers attempt to follow in his snazzy filmmaking footsteps. Across the pond, for a while, Guy Ritchie seemed to be the U.K.’s answer to Tarantino for a while with his British gangster flicks, but he became consumed by bloated Hollywood fluff that, while not particularly devoid of his signature style, lacks the razor sharp edge of his earlier work such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla and the vastly underrated Revolver. Never would I have expected fellow maverick British filmmaker Edgar Wright, famous for his dark and blisteringly hysterical comedy Cornetty trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), to usurp Ritchie from his throne, but with Baby Driver, he has firmly established himself as one of Britain’s pre-eminent mainstream filmmakers.
Baby Driver centers itself around the titular Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars), a young loner and passionate music lover impaired with tinnitus so distracting that he drowns it out with songs from his trusty iPod(s) (one for each mood). However, Baby happens to be a scarily-good getaway driver, a trait that his handler Doc (Kevin Spacey) squeezes every last ounce of with each robbery, and that which his partners-in-crime – the bullying Griff (Jon Bernthal), the calculated Buddy (Jon Hamm), the cheeky Darling (Eiza González), and the deranged Bats (a wonderfully scenery-chewing Jamie Foxx) – simultaneously mock, admire and fear. Baby is burned out and wants out, his desire to leave his criminal life behind only heightened with his meeting and subsequent romance with the charming Debora (Lily James), but discovers that he can never really leave his past behind without a little direct action. Nobody backs Baby into a corner.
Baby Driver is a wonderful film. I’m not going to award the film points for plot originality, but Wright knows it; it is all style, all heart. The man has a clear love for the hard-boiled action neo-noir subgenre that dominated the ’70s and ’80s, and stylizes each trope as if it were a savoury meal. Everyone working here is on their A-game, especially Wright, director of photography Bill Pope, stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott and driver Jeremy Fry (responsible for some rock-solid car chases), editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos, choreographer Ryan Heffington. All of this kinetic energy is cut together by a hip soundtrack comprised of the mixtape of yesteryear: some hits, most unsung. It’s a happy marriage of violence, music, and romance – Walter Hill with a side of Tarantino and James Gunn’s playlist blaring in the background.
The rip-snorting action sequences and choreography are key; Wright relishes in every fantasy of having the music dictate the world around you; be it getting coffee from the store, doing the laundry, or even dodging a shootout. Engines rev, guns blare, captured nicely by granite-steady camera-work with no CGI trickery to speak; these are stunts with a real sense of danger and thrills that simply cannot be replicated on a computer processor. The city of Atlanta here becomes a character of its own as a result, an urban backdrop where violence and music seems to burst around the corner. When a gunshot or tire squeal follows the beat of the music, half of you is on the edge-of-your-seat, the other half is feet-tapping away.
On a good date night, the music swells, the camera swirls. As Baby swoons his way into Debora’s (and some audience members’) heart, we notice the charm of young Ansel Elgort that evokes both young Ryan O’Neal and Patrick Swayze, sure to be America’s next young star. Even the screenplay, which usually falls victim to the style, works. We get to know more of the characters during the film’s admittedly slow second act (which may turn off a lot of viewers), where each has a distinct eccentricity that makes them stand out from the crowd, with one character’s arc going down a completely different road than expected during the film’s pivotal third act.
Baby Driver is pure cinematic cool, a sincere and giddy love for cinematic images and sound. It doesn’t strip it down to its barest essentials nor hyper-stylize it with excess. This is passionate filmmaking from Wright’s end, and it is terrifically entertaining. Make this one a good summer memory.
[★★★★½] out of [★★★★★]