We have missed you, Edgar Wright.
Regular readers of Hungry Eye will know that we don’t typically write film reviews. This film marks the exception.
Baby Driver, Wright’s latest directorial offering, follows heist getaway driver Baby (rising star Ansel Elgort, son of famed fashion photographer Arthur Elgort) as he works to pay off his debt to crime boss Doc (the always charismatic Kevin Spacey). Using music as a means to block out the constant ringing sound from tinnitus, it is through Baby’s self-curated soundtrack that we come to understand how he drives with such precision and skill despite being so young. It’s only when he meets Deborah (Lily James), a waitress at a diner, that things come to a head, with everything Baby holds dear being threatened by a criminal lifestyle that he never even wanted.
Wright has made a bold choice by making the films soundtrack the focal point of this movie; it’s rare to see a film so reliant on soundtrack, but it’s a choice that pays off immensely. Each song sets the tone and beat for the visuals that play out, a particularly memorable scene being the opening credits filmed in one continuous long shot to Bob & Earle’s The Harlem Shuffle, each sound effect blending effortlessly into the rhythm of the song, perfectly setting up the rest of the film.
Something to note is that prior to this movie, Wright was signed on to direct Marvel’s Ant-Man in 2015, having to leave due to what was cited as ‘creative differences’. Intentional or not, this movie seems to be the Edgar Wright Ant-Man we never got to see; his style and vision pours into every frame of this film.
Wright’s referential directing style is unmistakable, with several nods to films such as Heat, The Driver, his own Cornetto trilogy, and even Monsters Inc; these references never take you out of the film though, and actually shows that Wright does something not many directors do anymore – he doesn’t treat his audience like they’re stupid. Yes, there are scenes that are heavy in exposition, but through clever casting, good writing and a fast paced film with a dynamite soundtrack it never feels like we’re having buckets of information thrown at us; every new bit of information the film has to offer is thrilling because of how well it’s been put together and acted.
The other criminals along for the ride are Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzales), and Griff (Jon Bernthal). Some of these characters get more screen time than others, but none feel unwelcome in any scene, each actor committing to what they’re given with gusto, especially Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm. Foxx’s Bats is dangerous and impulsive, single-mindedly doing whatever it takes for cash, and carelessly dealing with loose ends no matter how perilous the consequences. Jon Hamm’s Buddy is a much quieter force, in one scene able to go from tolerant and even compassionate towards Baby to menacing and ruthless; both performances are thrilling to watch.
But it’s Baby and Deborah’s chemistry that the entire film is dependent on – if these characters weren’t well cast or well acted it wouldn’t be believable. I would argue one of the weakest points of the movie is that their love story progresses very quickly, and if played by weaker actors I don’t think the film would be as strong. Thankfully Ansel Elgort plays Baby with equal parts naïve sweetness and determinedness, and Lily James is charming as Deborah.
The film does have its imperfections. Characters you have spent over an hour watching seem to change their stance on issues and plot points within the film at random; at times it can take you out of the film because it seems so unlikely these characters would make these choices. The love story is underwritten, as are the female characters, and although Edgar Wright’s referential vision is there, I would say not much of his trademark humor is, which is part of what makes his previous films like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim VS The World so wonderful.
I found the film to be at it’s best during the scenes with Baby and his foster father Joseph (an excellent and very underrated performance from CJ Jones), watching them enthuse about music and girls through sign language was lovely not just because it represented a relationship with a deaf person in a respectful and nuanced way, but also because it reinforced the focus on the soundtrack as these scenes had no vocal dialogue.
Although not perfect, Baby Driver is an excellent movie. The car chases and stunts are choreographed phenomenally, far greater than many of the Fast and the Furious movies recently, and with a great cast and an awesome soundtrack, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a fantastically fun few hours to spend at the movies. Believe the hype.
Review by Elle Jepson.