BABY DRIVER

Car chases are awesome. There’s simply no doubt about that. I don’t know what it is, but watching somebody so skilled behind the wheel perform incredible (and often dangerous) stunts is so exhilarating. They’re a staple of action cinema. Edgar Wright is also awesome. He’s a smart screenwriter with an energetic directing style, but above all else, he knows genre conventions. If there’s one thing that Wright has excelled at in his film career, it’s been taking specific genres with treasure troves of clichés and turning those clichés on their heads, all while still embracing them. He clearly loves film not just from an artistry level, but from an entertainment level as well.

Baby Driver follows our hero Baby (Ansel Elgort), a quiet and reserved young man who constantly listens to music on his iPod. Involved in a car accident as a child that killed both of his parents, he has tinnitus which he uses the music to drown out. Oh yeah, he’s also a getaway driver working for mysterious criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby is the best of the best when it comes to getaway driving, using his own personal soundtrack as a tool that keeps him focused, calm, and most importantly, fast. However, things get a little hairy when Baby falls for waitress Debora (Lily James), endangering him, her, and the entire criminal operation he works for.

While Baby Driver doesn’t have the parodic elements of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, it still feels like an Edgar Wright film in how it perfectly homages the car chase action genre. On its surface, it really is just a getaway driver trying to get out of the dirty business, but Wright injects enough twists and turns throughout the story to keep it fresh and somewhat unpredictable. It still completely embraces the tropes, though, containing thrilling car chase sequences featuring some truly impressive stunt work, all while a gang of kooky character bicker throughout. These celebrations of genre clichés are sometimes unfortunately to the film’s detriment, as some of the dialogue felt like I was watching an 80’s action film… and not a good one. It could have been meant as an homage, like most of the stuff in this film, but unlike some of Wright’s other efforts, the in-jokes here don’t feel as direct.

What truly sets the film apart from your standard car chase fare and makes this feel truly unique is the terrific use of music as the driving force of the film. From the opening sequence to the resolution, there’s music being played in the background pretty much constantly. Whether it’s Baby listening to his iPod, a record at home, or through a jukebox at a diner, music is always present, but complimenting the film in all of the best ways. Not only do the lyrics of each song fit to the situation, but the way the action is edited to the beats of the music is mesmerizing. Gunshots, tire squeals, car crashes, and much more are synced in perfect beat to the music. This isn’t just thanks to the editing, but Wright’s fantastic directing, which executes these musical scenes to extravagant shots with great precision. While the pacing is a little rough and the editing occasionally choppy, especially during scene transitions, it maintains a wonderful rhythm that never really lets up.

The sound design is impeccable, too, featuring incredible mixing that made it feel all much more immersive. Whenever Baby’s in his own little world his earbuds in, the music is out in full force until someone comes and yanks a bud out of his ear, suddenly fading the music down to a whisper. No matter what, you could always hear just a little bit of the music coming from him, just like that annoying kid in high school. Doesn’t mean we can’t hear all of the epic car crashes and gunshots, though! While having a constant soundtrack of rock songs would get old in most films, it’s one of the things that gives this film its own identity and truly sets it apart from the rest. Car chase films are a dime a dozen, but like Quentin Tarantino showed us all a decade ago with Death Proof, something creative can always be done with a seemingly tired genre.

Even through all of the crashes and smashes, the film definitely has a story. Baby has occasional flashbacks to his mother, who provides half of the film’s heart. The love story between Baby and Debora is the other half, most of their scenes being really charming, mostly due to our lead’s wonderful chemistry. Elgort is great to watch, playing the role with an almost childlike enthusiasm, dancing around, singing to his music, and giggling while saying awkward things to girls. He also has this great intensity, as when he’s with his group of criminals behind the wheel, he puts those earbuds in, never shifting his cold gaze. While Debora did feel somewhat underwritten, only there to serve as a motivation and high stakes for Baby, the character is elevated by James’ incredibly sweet performance.

The rest of the cast is fantastic, with Kevin Spacey doing his usual surly thing, and a standout performance from Jamie Foxx who plays a terrifying psychopath. He was an antagonist that actually felt threatening, mostly due to the events in the film actually having consequences, especially in their emotional effect on Baby. People often die in this film and it’s never really for comedic effect, making each innocent life lost have a lot of weight. You’re not just having fun with the action, but incredibly invested because you believe our main characters can actually die. It’s an all-around well written screenplay, especially with how every little aspect is set up and then paid off in the end. When the film was wrapping up, it was nice how every little thing came together to provide a satisfying resolution. Isn’t it great when a movie is actually a movie?

Baby Driver is very much an ode to the car chase movies of old. Thugs with guns robbing banks, a cute love interest who’s to drive cross country for, cheesy dialogue from animated characters, and most importantly, cars doing awesome stunts. Wright never lost sight of the characters, story, or style, though, delivering us a truly unique car chase action film, all with a killer soundtrack to boot. He proves that genre pictures have their place in great cinema, too. Sometimes it’s enjoyable to watch characters grow while things blow up around them, you know?

9/10

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