Written & Directed by Edgar Wright
In the Southern metropolis of Atlanta lives Baby, the best wheelman your heist could hire. He’s under the thumb of Doc (Kevin Spacey), a man who makes the jobs happen. The rest of the crews may change, but Baby is the one constant, Doc’s lucky charm. What makes Baby different than all the rest is that he’s always cranking the tunes, using the rhythm of his music to drive the car, life his life, and fall in love. Everything changes when Baby meets Deborah (Lily James), a waitress who wants to leave town and just drive while the radio blares on the speakers. Baby struggles to extricate himself from the mire of crime he’s drowning in, surrounded by lowlifes and sociopaths (Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, etc.). Will he get free and ride into the sunset with Deborah or will this be the day the music dies?
Baby Driver is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Edgar Wright, every constant in his skills as a maker of movies has crafted another tightly written and edited piece of cinema. One of the traits of Wright’s oeuvre for me has been the rhythm of his work. Going back to Shaun of the Dead and up to Scott Pilgrim, there is a sense in all these pictures of the momentum of character and plot. Once the screen lights up, you are moving until the fade to black. As a result, he’s produced some of the most striking and intelligent visual comedy of the 21st century. He understands the relationship between image and music as well which is where Baby Driver shines brightest.
The opening is in two parts: The first heist & Baby gets coffee. These scenes are able to communicate volumes about Baby and his world. The heist shows us the connection between his music and his driving as well as introduces the dynamic between criminals Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm & Eiza Gonzalez respectively). The coffee scene shows us Baby outside criminal activity and how music continues to shape his perceptions of the world around him. While I suspect most filmgoers will be rightfully dazzled by the acrobatics of the heist and subsequent car chase in the opening, the following scene of Baby walking down the street is so full of intricate sound design synced up with the music playing over the earbuds.
The plot of Baby Driver isn’t anything too original. It most definitely owes nods to the litany of car movies that have come before it and especially those crimes films featuring stoic almost wordless protagonists (Driver, Le Samourai, etc.). Where the plot did surprise me is in how it delivers a villain for the third act. I think most people in the audience pegged one of two characters are rising to the surface to be the big bad. Who ends up being the one Baby faces off with was a pleasant turn in the script. On reflection, there is a line of dialogue that foreshadows this, a warning that we don’t want to see this person angry. And then at the close of the second act, this antagonist is given all the fuel they need to unleash hell on Baby.
I’ve been catching up on American Gods lately and reflecting on the idea of a foreign director fashioning their take on Americana. Edgar Wright is definitely removed from the psychological/spiritual/psychic baggage of his setting, Atlanta. And so he able to produce what is akin to a crime myth. Each character is a larger than life archetype, the exact sort of characters you would expect to see in this film. Additionally, he heightens reality through the use of music and choreographing every action in the movie to fit the rhythm. This never quite feels like reality, more like a fairy tale or the sort of fanciful American tableaus the Coen Brothers create. This also marks a transition from comedy to action/drama for Wright. There’s humor here, but this is most definitely not a comedy.
Genuine suspense built through dramatic tension is an element I look for in films, and Baby Driver gave me those transcendent moments where I was in it with the character. A hand clutching the grip of pistol gave me the rush of anxiety the character felt. There is a volatility to this world that will overtake you and have you deeply invested in the film. I can’t think of a movie that more exemplifies the best of what a summer movie should be while holding onto an intelligence and wit.