After Ant-Man fell through for Edgar Wright, I was kind of concerned for his career. Here was one of my favorite directors ever, with an almost unparalleled track record of success, missing out on a chance to punch his ticket to becoming a big, A-list director. Instead of directing a sure-fire box office success, he fell back into directing a movie with the uninspiring title of Baby Driver. Uninspiring to me, at least.
Still, it’s Edgar Wright. So I waited patiently. And here we are. Baby Driver is an instant classic for me, already one of my favorite movies in recent memory.
Baby Driver tells the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort, here a star, perfect timing, and styled perfectly), a getaway driver who suffers from tinnitus – and constantly listens to music to deal with the symptoms. He’s forced into crime by the villainous Doc (Kevin Spacey, smirkingly devious, channeling his character from House of Cards) who pairs him with criminals like Bats (Jamie Foxx at his most bug-eyed and crazy), Buddy (Jon Hamm, thuggish and tortured), and Darling (Eiza González, totally bad-ass), which makes the soft-spoken and kind-hearted Baby uncomfortable, to say the least. Baby also harbors a big crush on local waitress Debora (Lily James, a sweet damsel-in-distress), but knows that they can’t ever be happy together so long as he remains a criminal.
You can probably guess what happens next – the plot here isn’t exactly groundbreaking. But Baby Driver is all about the execution. In the hands of any other director, this story would be a total cliche of a movie, something we’ve seen a thousand times; in the hands of Edgar Wright, this is something new and inventive and wholly original. A film like this takes vision to pull off, and Edgar Wright is a visionary.
Baby Driver is one of the most kinetic, exciting movies in recent memory, filled with exciting action and stunts that, parallel some of the best that action filmmaking has to offer. The car chases in this movie might make Steve McQueen, circa Bullitt, envious. These are some of the most satisfying-to-watch action scenes I can recall in recent history, defying modern shaky-cam action, in favor of a classic, elegant style, one in which the spatial geometry is always clearly defined.
Almost as important to the success of Baby Driver – probably even more important – is its use of music. Edgar Wright has always been a filmmaker who toys with music, using diegetic sounds to inform his action while simultaneously presenting the film in style. With Baby Driver, he takes this trend to the Nth degree, to the point that this film feels like it shares a lot of its DNA with musicals. It’s fully choreographed to the music, every action synchronized to a beat, replete with little moments of dance and interjections of sound that time perfectly with the music. The attention to detail here is simply astounding.
Baby Driver is also very funny. That’s an important thing to note, since this is a movie that has a surprisingly dark plot. Again, it’s all about the execution here – in other hands, this film might feel almost unbearable, but in the hands of Edgar Wright, this movie feels charming, full of energy. The music cues play a large role in this, but this is also a film that has plenty of jokes; Wright has worked hard to fill the film with comedic moments that prevent the movie from veering too far in the wrong direction, and the light touch here shows.
Baby Driver is also quite a romantic movie. The story of Baby and Debora is not given short shrift here by any means – it’s a real meaty part of the movie, and the two actors have such on-screen chemistry that it’s easy to become attached to the fates of the two characters. The romance between the two of them is a classic kind of Hollywood romance, and they way they’ve styled both Baby and Debora is clearly and explicitly meant to invoke the kinds of images of Americana that the film is making homage to.
In a sense, Edgar Wright is Baby here, a savant behind the wheel. You don’t know what’s going to happen next or where things are headed, but the confidence he has is so unwavering that there’s never a moment in Baby Driver where you think he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Here’s a director fully confident in his stylistic choices, who knows exactly how to mete out directorial tics so that they never distract or detract from the action. There may not be an ounce of fat on the bones of this film.
It’s incredibly reassuring to hear that Baby Driver has been doing really well at the box office. Baby Driver is the kind of mid-budget movie that studios rarely take risks with in the modern film economy; it’s a film that doesn’t have an obvious hook, doesn’t have any existing characters or a franchise to sell it, and it’s the kind of movie that easily could have been a bust at the box office. Instead, thanks to the many people who have been championing it, it looks like Baby Driver might be a success story that leads film studios to take more risks with these kinds of movies. And if it means that Edgar Wright gets a blank check to make whatever crazy movie comes into his head, then I’m game.