ALL YOU NEED IS ONE KILLER TRACK.
Director Edgar Wright had been thinking about making this movie for two decades before it finally happened. Those who know their Wright oeuvre might recognize the basic idea from a music video he made in 2003, ”Blue Song” for Mint Royale, featuring the British comedian Noel Fielding as a getaway driver who loves music.
After skipping Ant-Man (2015), Wright decided that Baby Driver would be his next movie. The final results is a pop culture feast, but the film that inspired Wright in particular was Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978), a script he ended up studying closer because he needed to learn how to write car chases.
Failing to earn the trust of robbers
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young getaway driver in Atlanta, Georgia. Working for a criminal organization led by the cool Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby is exceptionally good at what he does but frequently fails to earn the trust of the robbers Doc employs for his heists. After all, why would these people trust a kid who wears shades all the time and always seems disconnected from his surroundings, listening to music on his old iPod? Still, he has earned Doc’s trust and that makes all the difference. Baby has been working off a debt he owes Doc and makes the mistake of thinking that the last job is the end of their relationship…
A kid in over his head
Edgar Wright has been making good movies for 15 years now, entertaining us with his Cornetto trilogy where he took three different genres (zombie movies, cop movies, sci-fi movies) and turned them into clever and funny comedies. One persistent theme throughout has been what he calls in a 2014 Toronto Star interview ”the dangers of perpetual adolescence”. Perhaps we can sense more of the same in this movie, as Baby is essentially a kid who’s in over his head but finds a way out of the mess.
When we first meet Baby, in the thrilling opening sequence, he’s an instantly charming and infuriating character. A criminal who’s very good at helping his robbers get away from the police, but as one of his partners tells him, there has to come a time when he actually gets blood on his hands. We in the audience need to to see that happen, because Baby deserves to be rocked out of his iPod bubble and experience some of the hurt that he inadvertently inflicts on others. Once he does, our sympathies lie entirely with him. The film explores a cute love story between Baby and a waitress, Debora (Lily James); the relationship between Baby and Doc’s criminal enterprise is initially amusing before it takes a more serious turn and becomes increasingly dangerous and action-packed. The film is very well cast, with Elgort getting a role of a lifetime. He’s great in the tinnitus-stricken lead role and superbly assisted by Spacey as the authoritative gang leader and Hamm and Foxx as two charismatic but lethal robbers. The supporting cast is also filled with notable artists; apart from Flea and Paul Williams, there are several rappers. That’s to be expected from a movie that puts music front and center of the story; Baby’s iPod becomes an eclectic Tarantino-esque soundtrack.
Cinematographer Bill Pope keeps the film moving in an awe-inspiring way; that’s true of the wonderful, long sequence that introduces us to Baby in his neighborhood, but also the pulse-pounding action scenes and car chases where the kid’s talents are severely tested.
You might say that Edgar Wright reinvented zombie movies with Shaun of the Dead (2004) and heist movies with this one. He knows how to make something old and stale look fun and cool again. I can’t wait to see what he’ll bring back to life next.
Baby Driver 2017-Britain-U.S. 112 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nira Park. Written and directed by Edgar Wright. Cinematography: Bill Pope. Editing: Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss. Cast: Ansel Elgort (Baby), Kevin Spacey (Doc), Lily James (Debora), Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jamie Foxx… Flea, Paul Williams. Voice of Walter Hill.
Trivia: Emma Stone was allegedly considered for the role of Debora; Michael Douglas as Doc.
BAFTA: Best Editing.
Last word: “Within things like ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim’ and ‘The World’s End’, I had done more and more of these music-y set pieces, action set pieces that are set to music or have music performed in them. I always liked doing them, like the ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ scene in ‘Shaun of the Dead’, where they’re beating up the zombies to Queen. It’s a joy to film that. With ‘Baby Driver’, I got the idea for the script and what the story is and who the character is and it’s like ‘Can I do that for an entire movie?’ Can that be the movie? It’s entirely diegetic and the songs are playing in every scene, on some device or another, whether they’re in his ears or on the stereo or in a store. That became the intention, of doing an entire movie that was set to music.” (Wright, Slash Film)