Cinematic Releases: Baby Driver (2017) - Reviewed

The excitement behind the announcement that Edgar Wright would be writing and directing Marvel’s Ant-Man was equaled only by the disappointment of him leaving the project a few short months later.  While Wright may not be a household name, as admittedly few outside of your Spielbergs and Scorceses are these days, his name is a mark of quality to a small but feverishly loyal cult.  Though Ant-Man turned out just fine under director Peyton Reed (who noticeably kept elements of Wright’s screenplay), it’s hard to fault Wright for wanting to do something original.  Nearly four years after completing his “Cornetto” trilogy with The World’s End, Wright finally delivers his follow-up, the wholly original Baby Driver.

Baby Driver
is very different kind of Edgar Wright movie, but very much in the spirit of the rest of his work.  Ansel Elgort, best known to date for starring in adaptations of YA novels (The Fault in our Stars, the Divergent series), plays the title character Baby.  Baby is a wildly talented young getaway driver whose secret weapon is the music he uses to drown out his tinnitus.  He’s looking to make a clean break from his life of crime, but he’s about to realize there’s no such thing.

The film opens with not one but two memorable scenes: a frenetic chase scene set to “Bellbottoms” by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, followed by a peppy opening credits sequence shot in a continuous take.  These two scenes perfectly set up the technical marvel of a film to follow.  The film is shot by frequent Wright collaborator Bill Pope, who also happens to be one of the best action cinematographers around (The Matrix, Spider-Man 2), and he brings every bit of that experience to film not only some incredibly cool action sequences but also stunning quieter moments of conversation and contemplation. 

ansel elgort
I wear my sunglasses at I I can.....

The soundtrack, as with most of Wright’s films, is a marvel all its own.  Few directors truly revere music the way Wright does—Scorcese, Tarantino and Cameron Crowe come to mind.  Wright has outdone himself here, with a soundtrack that drifts seamlessly through soul, hip-hop and classic rock just as Baby weaves through rush hour traffic at 100 miles per hour.  And it’s never just background music; every action scene moves and flows to the beat of its own backing track, squealing tires and gunshots timed perfectly to every beat.  To borrow a cliché, imagine the “Don’t Stop Me Now” scene from Wright’s Shaun of the Dead cranked up to 11.  Now imagine it a dozen more times.

Indeed, if Baby Driver has a flaw to speak of, it’s the characters.  The performances themselves are great.  Elgort impresses as Baby, and certainly has the best arc, and Cinderella’s Lily James is sweet and fun as waitress/love interest Debora (also a fantastic excuse to include a Beck song on the soundtrack, as if one is ever needed).  And you couldn’t cast a better bunch of criminals than boss Kevin Spacey and thugs Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx, all of whom elevate otherwise basic bad guy roles.  And therein lies the problem: as interesting as these characters are to watch, they’re also static.  The characters here are clearly defined, either bad guys or good guys in bad situations, and with all the excitement around them you’ll wish they were a little more dynamic.  But this is Baby’s journey, and Elgort rises to the challenge and creates what is possibly Wright’s deepest and most fascinating hero yet.

There’s no shortage of big budget superhero spectacle this summer.  (And all things considered, with Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it’s been a damn good year for superhero movies so far.)  But the summer’s best action movie just might be Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.  It’s a slightly more action and drama-heavy departure for the otherwise comedic Wright.  But there are plenty of Wright trademarks here too: a likable hero, plenty of heart, and the year’s best soundtrack by a mile.  While not technically flawless, Baby Driver is a frenetically paced thrill ride that never lets up from the opening beat of “Bellbottoms” through the fade to black two hours later.  Baby Driver is the most fun you’ll have at the movies this summer, and probably all year.  Move this one to the top of your list.

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-Mike Stec