Welcome to ‘Baby Driver’, the most entertaining movie of the year…by a mile
Written and directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Elza Gonzalez, and CJ Jones
“Baby Driver” – During the 1970s and 1980s, millions of boys grew up watching hundreds and hundreds of staged car chases on television shows like “Starsky & Hutch” and “The Dukes of Hazzard”, and include me in this motley group. Pristine minds – void of any personal experiences of burning rubber and squealing tires – can certainly become mesmerized, when two Southern California police detectives and two Georgia locals man their four-wheeled chariots on tracks of asphalt and dirt, respectively and in the process, outwit their adversaries.
Over time, however, mesmerized looks can turn into glazed over ones, when car chases simply become repeated vehicles (pardon the pun) to fill time during small screen programs. In other words, for many experienced television and movie fans, it will take a heck of a car chase to garner our attention.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) - an early 20-something who frequently sports shades, almost constantly blares music on his old school iPod and hardly speaks a word – drives.
Baby drives several different teams of bank robbers – three at a time - to various jobs, and our sunspecs-sporting, earbud-wearing, soft-spoken hero is always the fourth in these criminal quartets. The armed robbers change, but Baby remains the one constant, because he is the best.
Right away, writer/director Edgar Wright showcases Baby’s skills behind the wheel of a red, 4-door Subaru in a getaway chase that heightens the senses, complete with hairpin turns on narrow streets, zigzags on busy freeways and an extremely clever deception that will induce frisky smiles, even from the most cynical, experienced “Starsky & Hutch” and ”The Dukes of Hazzard” viewers.
Wright literally and figuratively puts the pedal to the metal - and beautifully does so - in concert with a particular 1994 alternative rock track (which I will not name in this review) emanating from Baby’s iPod. What an entrance, and welcome to “Baby Driver”, easily the most entertaining movie of 2017…so far. In fact, with this film’s mix of music, action, comedy, and snappy dialogue within its congealed criminal elements and more, “Baby Driver” resonates a unique euphoria, similarly to two pictures in fairly recent history, “48 Hours” (1982) and “Pulp Fiction” (1994). I cannot absolutely declare that Wright’s masterpiece is on par with these films, but with just one week out from seeing the picture, it sure feels that way.
Along with Baby, Wright pens a collection of felonious types, including a tattooed bully (Jon Bernthal), a veteran lawbreaker who always anticipates a double-cross (Jamie Foxx) and a couple who arrives as the most amiable of the bunch, because they endless shower affection for one another (John Hamm, Elza Gonzalez). Every crook – rotating in and out – usually finds plenty to say, and their constant spoken opinions prove a huge contrast to Baby, who prefers to keep his distance, physically and emotionally. Baby either believes that he does not belong in Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) various gangs of four, or he does, so detachment during the heists’ planning and execution stages helps him cope.
The picture does not detach or unplug the audience during its 1-hour 53-minute runtime, and music and many, many references to it flood the screen, as the soundtrack feels like another character along for the ride (again, pardon the pun). Music moves in harmony with the distinct characters, as they run through complex schemes of thievery in a windowless, concrete room and cinematically race them to fruition through Atlanta’s buzzing streets via kinetic, violent means. Meanwhile, the narrative gradually unwraps Baby’s sorted history through haunting flashbacks which environmentally built – atom by atom - his nature in 2017, and the screenplay smartly offers him a courtship with a sweet, virginal waitress named Debora (Lily James) at the same pacing.
Baby and Debora’s scenes at Bo’s Diner feel precious and rare, as he continues to open up to this trusting, wide-eyed girl next door, sans the details of his current driving duties. Baby’s reveals and personal growth (including a father/son relationship with Joseph (CJ Jones)) pour a highly important foundation to the film and serve as the emotional core that allows the audience the freedom to play and dollop in the wild, dangerous fun. Stylistically, the film treats the flashbacks and current romantic sparks with Debora with the same, deep meticulous details as the thrilling set pieces, so transitions between relationship exploration and action are tonally seamless.
Wright also conjures up some pleasing traces of “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) and “True Romance” (1993) – including a faint ode to Elvis with Baby’s given accent – but “Baby Driver” proudly carries its own spirit with less exposition (except for music references) and more focus on the tasks at hand. You see, precision is a paramount prerequisite to a successful heist, and “Baby Driver” thoroughly crafts and layers intricate elements – throughout the picture - which lend its astonishingly elaborate mechanics to flow with the greatest of ease. No, “Baby Driver” is not another action picture with well-placed, choreographed car chases. Not by a mile
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.