Films that focus on driving and vehicle action have never really been my thing. I’ve only seen the first Fast and the Furious. The chase sequences in the Bond films are only great because of the weaponized sports cars. You get the idea. So when I first heard about Baby Driver, I wasn’t too interested. Yes, Edgar Wright, the director behind Simon Pegg’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, as well as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, was at the helm. And I thought the idea of having the soundtrack front and center was intriguing, if not a bit gimmicky. So I gave it a shot. And while I still enjoyed the non driving parts of this film more than those that took place behind the wheel, I can happily say that Wright’s musical experiment worked much better than I thought it would.
The opening sequence sets the stage for what we are in store for. Baby (Ansel Elgort), driving a crew of three, pulls up to a bank, and sticks his headphones in. He hits play on Bellbottoms by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. For the remainder of the scene all of the character actions, cuts, and pacing are lined up in time with the music. It’s like watching a high end music video. This technique, because of how well Wright understands how to use music to not only compliment a scene, but also because of how much it ties into the character of Baby himself, never outstays its welcome. When a song that I was very familiar with came on, I was excited to see how it was going to be incorporated into the scene, something you just don’t get in most films that utilize such heavy doses of popular music. This style of filmmaking requires your attention to get the most out of it and is pulled off damn near flawlessly.
All of this wouldn’t mean a thing, however, if there wasn’t a decent story and acting to back it up. The story, despite a few clever characterizations, unfortunately isn’t some ingenious stroke of originality. After losing his parents in a car wreck, Baby starts on a life of petty crime in order to get by and ends up lifting a car from someone who could make his life a hell of a lot worse (Kevin Spacey). But instead of offing him, an offer is made for Baby to become this crime kingpin’s getaway driver until his debt is repaid. As such, Baby gets involved with some real terrible people while trying to keep on as much of a straight path as he can in this world of serious crime. Pretty standard fare. What elevates it, other than the artistic choices, is the performances. Jamie Foxx continues to showcase his excellent range as Bats, one of the hardest dudes you will ever come across, even though his characterization is a bit over the top. Jon Hamm and Eiza González are convincing as two crooks in love and one shouldn’t be surprised that Kevin Spacey knows how to play an asshole. Finally, the moments between lead Ansel Elgort and love interest Lily James are more believable than anything he does behind the wheel. They make this world believable.
I was pleasantly surprised with Baby Driver. The way the music drives both the characters as well as the filmmaking choices really elevate this beyond what it would be otherwise. Even with an end of film set piece that felt a bit too action movie compared to the rest, Baby Driver nails what it sets out do do. Is this The Fast and the Furious for the indie kids? Just might be.
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