Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm. Directed by Edgar Wright.
There’s a producer over at Marvel Studios right now kicking themselves, clearing out their desk and crying. Why? Because everyone just saw Baby Driver, the new movie by Edgar Wright. That’s not to dump on Peyton Reed’s run at Ant Man, but after Wright stepped away from the project to make this, well, somebody is going to be seeing the green eyed monster.
Having cut his teeth with three ice cream based comedies, and a box office flop that become a cult favourite in adapting Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series, Wright is off the chain with this original solo-writing gig. Having taken inspiration from a frankly brilliant music video he did for Mint Royale (Nick Frost, Michael Smiley, Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett all star), he mounts a pre-credits remake of the video and sets the scene pretty quickly.
The plot is pure 70s’ cinema. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, the best there is. Suffering from tinnitus after a childhood accident, he listens to music to drown out the ringing, and to drive with no distractions. Working for Doc (Kevin Spacey), he falls for Debora (Lilly James) and comes into conflict with some rogues when he tries to get out of the life.
In an age where things have turned to the Michael Bay and Paul Greengrass style shakey-cam with one hundred cuts a minute, it’s nice to know some people want to try something different. John Wick, Marvel films like Guardians of the Galaxy, and now this proves that action can be mounted like a musical, and in fact that is Baby Driver’s closest blood relative. Wright has always had an affinity for music, like his contemporaries: James Gunn, Quentin Tarantino, Danny Boyle and even heavy weights like Martin Scorsese. Wright knows how to pick a soundtrack.
His ability to set a tune to an action sequence is unrivaled, and has gone on to become near legendary. Think back on the zombie fight to Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ in Shaun of the Dead, or the bar fight in The World’s End to ’20 Seconds to Comply’. Wright directs car chases like they’re a Gene Kelley musical number. Clearly Wright is in love with the work of Walter Hill and the cinema of the 70s, and it shows in every single scene.
The on-set stories that everyone had the music playing and had to do multiple takes because they sang along or danced to the music is clear in that every action is in time to the soundtrack. It’s also infectious, you want to tap your feet on the floor as the songs and the images work in tandem. The whole film is clearly Wright’s show, and it’s him firing on all cylinders with his trademark quick dialogue, long takes and brilliant action sequences.
Not unlike his previous ventures, Wright gets the very best from his cast. Ansel Elgort; who in the past has been a little stilted on screen, works as the quiet, reserved Baby. Unlike his work in The Fault in Our Stars or 2014’s Divergent, he comes across as neither a smug dick or a coward, but actually does that empty void-like character that most audiences thought was only reserved for Ryan Gosling. Similarly, Lilly James who hasn’t really looked comfortable in front of the camera relishes her role as the window to a better life. She turns what could be a one dimensional love interest into a fully rounded person, and with minimal character moments, turns Debora into a beacon of emotion.
Around them are brilliant players, Kevin Spacey as the crime boss is great, not as malicious as Frank Underwood, he instead plays him closer to his work pre-2000s, his suited and booted boss is a quick talker, and Spacey nails the role effortlessly. Eiza Gonzalez probably best known for TV’s From Dusk Till Dawn is a stand-out as the sexy, dangerous Darling, her bubblegum chewing, sultry delivery of dialogue is laced not only with danger but with barely repressed sexuality that drips off every word she says. Jon Hamm has a ball as nice-to-start-with Buddy who has an arc that allows the actor to do the full range, it’s like a feature length demo real for the former Don Draper who clearly wants to cut loose on the movie world in a big big way. Of course Jamie Foxx is great as the unhinged Bats who loves nothing more than to kill, and piss everyone off and gets the best role in the movie.
Wright not only gets the best from his actors, and has incredible taste in music and knows how to mount an action sequence, he is a proper storyteller. Ultimately, every story he tells is a love story that comes from insane situations: Shaun and Liz reconnecting during a zombie apocalypse, Nicholas and Danny bonding during “proper action and shit”, Scott Pilgrim fighting for Ramona’s hand by defeating her seven evil exes and even the love between Andy and Gary while robots attempt to rip them apart. Here Baby and Debora are the next logical step, they need to overcome a massive obstacle, an entire city on a man hunt.
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It’s also laugh out loud funny, but would you expect anything less? From the advertised Mike Myers/Michael Myers mask gag which is a true belly laugh to references to Monsters Inc, slapstick moments, word play, or just the smirk you get from seeing action done so well. The violence isn’t overly violent, but when it comes it does tend to shock, and the relationship between Baby and his deaf father-figure is poignant and well measured.
In the end though, even with some fun musical cameos – Flea for example, and an Academy Award winning musician who gets the best speech in the movie – the film works because it’s having fun. In a summer dominated by shared universes, sequels, prequels, spin-offs and adaptations, here comes this little movie that like it’s main character has no aspiration above getting a job done, and ends up becoming the best. It’s another stella film from one of the UK’s best directors, and hopefully will open the door for him to get more stuff made in the future. Now, that is all the music you need folks.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.