Baby Driver (2017) Review
Baby Driver is perhaps the most energetic and adrenaline-fuelled cinematic experience I’ve ever had. Note that I'm not of course claiming it to be the best experience (that's a dangerous claim to make these days), but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that Edgar Wright’s new film deserves all the praise and more that’s travelling its way.
So much of the chaotic energy buzzing through the movie is thanks to the exhaustive cinematography by Bill Pope. Every car-chase sequence (something I’ve admitted in past reviews as having grown tired of) is rendered with such confidence and commitment that I felt like a passenger in the back of that very car. It's hard not to fall in love with the film's style the minute the music starts to blare and that car starts to skid past opposition and down narrow alleyways in ways we wish we could all drive. The opening scene is a clever calm, immediately inviting us into the head of its main character, before roaring off into what sets the tone for the remaining run-time.
Ansel Elgort as the titular character Baby is a revelation, and despite solid past performances I have no doubt that Baby Driver is the launching pad he needed and deserves. Baby is a getaway driver who owes a debt to a very powerful man, who promises him they’ll be square after one more job. From here, you think you know where this is going. We’ve seen this kind of story before. And for almost half of the film, it’s rather predictable, if no less enticing, stuff. But it takes a turn later on, and for the final forty-five minutes I dare you to try and steady your heart-rate.
Lily James plays Deborah, Baby’s sweetheart and the inciting addition to his life that pushes the plot into motion. Wright’s dialogue is never flat, but it’s particularly witty while also being sweet when the two are interacting. Deborah isn’t given all too many layers, though, after her early scenes, and she becomes fodder for Baby. That said, she as a character is never disrespected, and indeed every character in the film has his or her standout moments. The script doesn't waste any time on anyone, but spends enough time so as not to render any one character needless.
Virtually all of the tension - and there is a lot of it - in the film is derived from Baby’s encounters within the groups that Kevin Spacey’s Doc orchestrates for each separate job. Uniting actors such as Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal and Eiza Gonzalez, as characters developed with such unpredictable glee, the film is never short of a twist or insecure moment for its audience. Eventually, Baby has fallen so far down the rabbit hole, by his own doing as much as others, that it’s almost impossible to see how he might climb back out.
This would be meaningless if we weren’t so invested in his trials. A quiet demeanour easily mistaken for pompousness mingles with a sympathetic backstory that isn’t over-sold, and several traits that make Baby instantly memorable help to solidify Baby Driver as something that needs to be seen this year. While the script can indeed be funny, it smartly remains squarely committed to its drama. It takes its time to acknowledge the goofy, over-the-top nature of its characters, but lets them fill us with dread all the same. Wright invests us in his story, and then starts melting the ice under our feet so that we’re never quite sure whose safe and what might happen next.
It would be criminal to ignore the soundtrack, and no other drama I can think of relies so heavily on its music. The film would entirely lose its identity without it. The sound editing is flawless, weaving the music in and out of sequences, dulling it during conversations or drowning out the speaker entirely. It’s when the music drops out altogether, or when other, real-world sounds fade into the fore, that we’re forced upright. It’s a loud experience one minute, and then deafeningly quiet the next. If anything, this is an aural experience as much or even more-so than a visual one.
Wright creates a character that feels entirely real, and throws him into a world that doesn’t feel right. Baby constantly feels like a small fish in a tank full of sharks, as though he’s in way over his head on a constant basis. And for every reason that he’s a character we can identify with, there’s another aspect of him that makes him a complete mystery. As a result, as unpredictable as those around him seem, it’s equally as hard to predict how he'll react to them.
Baby Driver is an exhilarating experience, and the best film I’ve seen this year. Apart from its haste in act three making for a couple of shortcuts regarding key characters, it brings everything to a satisfying halt. Paced to perfection, and offering something for everyone, it’s the midyear movie that might be part of the conversation all year round.