I expect fun movies this time of year, and Baby Driver was a great way to beat the heat for two hours. At first blush the movie looked like it was trying too hard, but after checking it out last weekend, I can say that it’s worth the hype: every bit as cool as it looks, a rhythmic and stylish ride. Think Kingsman: The Secret Service meets Drive.
Jamie Foxx (Sleepless) and Kevin Spacey (Nine Lives) are featured alongside newcomer Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) as a criminal outfit of bank robbers. Spacey calls the shots behind the scenes, while the field team executes. He never works with the same team more than once, save for Baby, the one constant, always the getaway driver. So nicknamed for his limited speaking, Baby is a reluctant wheelman, indebted to Doc (Spacey) until he works off what he owes.
Sometimes the best way to introduce a character is to throw the audience right into their world. Baby Driver begins with Baby behind the wheel, waiting animatedly while his three cohorts (Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez) pull a heist. I’m not saying this opening scene should be considered alongside the great car chases/escapes like those in Ronin or The Italian Job, but Baby’s wheelwork was breathtaking. I was on the edge of my seat as he took turns at ridiculous speeds, cutting his wheel on a dime, his skills a virtual thing of beauty.
I hadn’t figured this cinematic outing would make for a lesson in filmmaking, but I gained a deeper appreciation for score and musicality. Elgort glided effortlessly across the screen like a hipster Gene Kelly, adding a whimsical flair to an otherwise dangerous business. The movie pulsated with sound and music, nearly elevating the aural component on par with the characters. Music was an integral part of the movie, as Baby listens 24/7 to drown out the noise in his ears. We might affectionately dub a tune part of the soundtrack of our life, but Baby really means it, carefully mining his iPod for the perfect song for even the most mundane tasks.
Baby made for an interesting protagonist, a sort of criminal prodigy impervious to the provocations of others. His demeanor is irksome to the rest of the team, as they mistake his unassuming aloofness for superiority, but Baby is just good at what he does. Another highlight of the movie was the burgeoning relationship between Baby and Debora (Lily James, Burnt, Downton Abbey), a waitress at the local diner who catches both his eye and his ears with her own musicality. Their earnest and pure love story had its own mini-soundtrack, endearing in its own right.
I was on Twitter today and saw that Anthony Bourdain bizarrely tweeted ‘Fuck Baby Driver.’ I don’t understand the vitriol. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, but that doesn’t mean it is without merit. Like most of its ilk, it became mired in absurdity by the third act, but overall I still found it enjoyable. Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey’s considerable talents were not utilized here, as both actors were constrained by their characters, turning in less than memorable performances. The real stars of the film are its star-crossed leads Elgort and James, and director Edgar Wright (The World’s End). Wright’s direction, his timing and physical placement of action to coincide with the rhythm of the score, was brilliant. He created an interesting character and put a fresh spin on familiar themes by relying on the magnetism and chemistry of the two leads. Purists can scoff away, but Baby Driver didn’t disappoint. Grade: B+