Dripping sweat, aching feet and a gasp for breath. A camera pummelling through a shopping centre. Sounds of the pop waves around. Tension and excitement. Joy and desperation. With these words I’m trying to portray the brilliance of Baby Driver. The ebb and flow, and the pace of the film are a spectacle. To write a review to replicate is not going to be easy because it’s difficult to describe a film that is so skin-wrenchingly entertaining, without getting too superlative.
Atlanta, present day. Ansel Elgort plays Baby: a young, talented getaway driver with a troubled past. From this troubled past he carries tinnitus, and plays music continually through earphones to drone it out. This gives him a natural beat to his life, but soon he realises there is no escape from this criminal world as crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) draws him in.
To discuss this film there has to be an acknowledgement of what makes it original, and standout. This is of course the constant soundtrack that backs every scene, and the motion it creates with the camera. Every moment has a carefully picked song to go with it, and they move intertwined together. This gives the film its natural fast pace, and almost musical like timing. The actors move with the music, and so does the action. Baby, in particular, is stuck with the tune throughout and has a real kinetic energy with it. The action also mirrors the music, as director Edgar Wright choreographs each shot to blend with the note behind it. To say it is a effectively a two hour music video, would underplay the strengths of the film, however it is a major element of the runtime. It creates segments of real exhilaration, yet also deeper feelings of anger and pain. Wright does a wonderful job of using songs that piece scenes together, and power home certain junctures, whilst also allowing the film to play out.
Narrative wise, the plot uses the music to move along quickly. The slower parts feel pushed by the soundtrack, and this makes them engaging without lulling on them for too long. It has this scene hopping style, which means the story arcs are quick and seamlessly never ending. From this, the film evolves an end for itself, an end that is inevitable. The film shocks at times, and the last 45 minutes or so played out in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Wright’s dialogue writing is poignantly like his previous work, but there’s an added sense of impetus when the longer monologues come. He keeps with his similar quick, straight to the point style, and this can sometimes make the romantic moments too punchy. Despite this, it works with the tone of the film and there’s a nuance between that poppy writing style and interesting conversations about love, escapism and hidden demons. The hardened criminals in the film deliver these lines the best, and Wright gives them plenty of space to express their characters intentions.
These hardened criminals are beautifully played by a host of scene stealing actors. There is, early on, a deeply enraged Jon Bernthal, who gives us the first indication of what kind of world our protagonist is a part of. Eiza Gonzales’ Darling is vivacious and worryingly terrifying. Her relationship with Jon Hamm’s Buddy is as disturbing as it is likeable, and Hamm does a good job of holding together a tricky role as a damaged baddie as the film progresses. Jamie Foxx as Bats is probably the highlight, as the disgruntled and clearly mentally deranged antagonist for Baby. Wright gifts him the best lines, and he walks down the road of brutally horrifying and gripping to watch on screen. These characters are reined in by Kevin Spacey’s Doc who controls most scenes by being strong in his tone and aggressive with his beliefs. Together they form an excellent support to Baby’s story, as both guiders and obstacles. They steal scenes from the young actor by being outlandish, which creates serious humour and threatening situations.
At the heart of the film, there is Lily James as diner waitress Debora, who catches the eye of our hero Baby. She does a convincing job in probably the toughest role in the film. Tough because she is a character who is there as a driving force for Baby. Their relationship at first is cute, and timid, before developing quickly into a strange back and forth romance. This bounce of lightning quick chemistry moulds well into the film, and though it’s a rushed love story, it didn’t feel added on. Elgort is great at holding the camera, smouldering and delivering killer lines. He has movie star written all over him, and he does well to keep the character present even when he is silent. His contact with the music really is something to marvel at, as he has this ability to focus in on the little subtleties of each song. Another character in this film has a massive impact, and it really surprised me, so I’m not going to mention them in this review and let you be surprised (and gut wrenched) too.
Where this film shines as a great, is its connection with the audience through each scene. Wright directs in a way that is fast and flashy, but has matured in this film as visionary kind of artist. He is showcasing with every shot and with cinematographer Bill Pope, he manages to be creative with every movement. The film has this super contemporary look to it, which is full of colour. There are holding close-ups, and quick cuts, as well drawn out wide’s that allow you to soak in the action. Wright stops at certain moments to allow revelling at the beauty of the scene and then suddenly throws you right back into it. The editing is tightly done, and this brings the connection, as you feel a part of every scene. Nothing feels too distant from you, with the relationship between the camera, the music and action being extremely close. There is a foot chase in the film that is nothing short of breathtaking, and needs to be witnessed.
Overall, I can’t wait to see this film again. I want to see the mix of the cinematography again, and enjoy the company of some truly memorable characters. The film is a fiercely fun ride, but has real filmmaking clarity in what it is trying to achieve. Edgar Wright has peaked here in a perfect execution of storytelling. It feels like he has complete control of what he was trying to build here, and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone. Wright, with this film, is a member of this new wave of exciting cinema, in the same vein as Jeremy Saulnier with Green Room and Ben Wheatley with Free Free. Cool cinema that can be universally enjoyed but still break new ground. They don’t have to be ultimately thoughtful; however they can be courageous and forge that wonderful emotion of being one with the film. Baby Driver is a film that actualises visceral sensitivities in me, and that is a sign of a film that I will continue to love.