Sony Pictures 1 hour 53 minutes R
Fasten your seat belt. This is one slick action film that may very well turn up on our Top 10 list for the year. It could also become a cult classic.
Writer/Director Edgar Wright (Sean of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Hot Fuzz) was inspired by music he picked before he wrote the script and the all star cast. He also had his editor, Paul Machliss on the set to cut the day’s shots to the music each day. It’s an unusual production technique but it gave the Director immediate confirmation that he got just the right coordination of music, lyrics, story and action.
Ansel Elgort plays the young talented “Baby.” He’s a getaway driver with amazing talents and iPod playlists. And he lip syncs the lyrics as he choreographs his incredible stunt driving to his music. The opening chase sequence in a red Subaru had the robbers and us holding on for dear life! Going backwards full speed, up and over embankments and bridges, wrong way in traffic and spinning 180 degrees kick starts this wild ride. The camera work puts you right in the middle of the action. No surprise. Wright had himself strapped to the shooting car instead of in a follow car to make sure he got what he wanted. His pans and circular shots are not dizzying but make full use of what he’s aiming for in each scene.
Wright started working on the idea in 1995 naming it after Simon & Garfunkel’s song “Baby Driver.” He was inspired by films like The Blues Brothers among others. But he didn’t finish the script until 2011 even though he was given the money to produce four earlier. Now it’s here. Was it worth the wait? We think so. Wright riffs on multiple genres in this film, and it works.
We think this could be Ansel Elgort’s ticket to the acting A-list. Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) is a music freak for real and a working DJ. Wright hand picked him for this role. He plays a young guy who lost his parents in a horrific car crash when he was a little boy in the back seat. It left him with tinnitus. Baby always has headphones pounding music to offset the ringing in his ears. Baby lives with his kind Foster Father, Joseph (CJ Jones is really hearing impaired). They use sign language to communicate. Despite his villainous profession, Joseph brings out Baby’s inner goodness.
Baby owes a debt that, even though, just about paid off, is beholden to Doc, the criminal mastermind behind the bank heists. Baby’s thinking one more job and I’m out. But Baby is the getaway master and Doc’s good luck charm. Spacey was drawn to the role because he liked Wright’s talents for humor and music. Spacey says they listened to the music before seeing the script and wore ear plugs doing the moves to the beat. Every move in this film was done to music. That even included how Spacey stacked up the money. And pay attention to the scene where Elgort is bringing coffee to the meeting for the next heist. As he’s walking, you see the lyrics painted in graffiti on the wall as they’re sung or said. Totally interwoven technique shows how Wright plans ahead.
Baby meets Debora, a waitress in a diner, played by Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella). They connect talking about music and dreams of breaking out of the lives they lead. Dating her is the most positive part of his life, but it gets complicated.
Jon Hamm, Eiza González and Jamie Foxx figure in the big heist Baby hopes will be his last. Hamm as Buddy and González as Darling are on PDA overload. Hamm loves playing something different and the stunning Gonzalez appears soft and cuddly, but she’s tough as nails. Foxx as Bats really is! He’s a cantankorous bad ass. Spacey describes the actor as certifiably insane but admits he was “an enormous joy to be around.” What a gang!
This last job, robbing a Post Office, is doomed from the start. Baby would rather be anywhere else, but he pushes on with the job as it all falls apart and the plot devolves into a more standard trajectory. The criminals turn on each other and shoot it out with the cops as Baby drives to survive so he hit the road with Debora and escape their dark lives. We can forgive these minor lapses in favor of the over-all effect of this incredibly unique film.
Edgar Wright’s vision is clear in every frame. Despite all the intricate moving parts in this Rubik’s Cube of a movie we are treated to fun, detailed, satisfying portraits of these characters. The back stories of Baby and Buddy allow the audience to peek behind the curtain of their motivation. Wright gets you to actually care about this collection of weirdos in this fast paced heist flick.
Whether it’s the panning camera shots up and over, the precise editing that cuts to the music, and/or the ensemble acting on the beat, Baby Driver is more than a Summer action popcorn popper. It's violent, but almost car-toonish. (Pun intended). It’s also a different kind of musical. So put the pedal to the medal to see this one and get ready to rock ’n’ roll.