2017, R, 113 mins.
Ansel Elgort as Baby / Lily James as Debora / Kevin Spacey as Doc / Eiza González as Darling / Jon Bernthal as Griff / Jon Hamm as Buddy / Jamie Foxx as Bats
Written and directed by Edgar Wright
BABY DRIVER shows writer/director Edgar Wright at the absolute zenith of his technical filmmaking prowess. After taking a far-too-long sabbatical from his last film, 2013's underrated THE WORLD'S END (the third film in his self-anointed Cornetto Trilogy, comprised of 2007's HOT FUZZ and 2004's SHAUN OF THE DEAD), the British filmmaker has made a triumphant return in this joyously energized, audaciously crafted, and robustly creative heist action thriller.
the many miracles of BABY DRIVER is that it takes a well worn narrative
(criminal going on one last job before going straight) and infuses
a-throw-caution-to-the-wind freshness of spirit and approach that makes it
feel revitalizing new. That,
and Wright's film has the classical elegance of works of old
to match its highly self-aware modern age aesthetic trappings.
It's been often said that genre originality is all but dead in
Hollywood, but BABY DRIVER proves this sentiment wrong.
This also might
be the very first action film that I can recall that has the look and feel
of a musical...minus the characters breaking out into spontaneous song
(although some do lip synch in it from time to time).
We've all seen countless films before involving car chases, foot
chases, and gun battles. We've
also all seen countless films before that have used classic rock and pop tunes
on their soundtracks. BABY
DRIVER contains all of these obligatory elements that have been film
staples for decades. Yet,
what Wright does with them is on a whole other level of fiendish
directors, for example, simplistically use music as background filler (and
to sell soundtracks). BABY
music to actually punctuate and frequently dictate editorial choices and
action and dialogue flow. That's
special. Wright pairs his
musical choices and masterfully marries them to precise action beats on
screen, and he does so in a beautifully organic manner that never feels
forced. This is the closest we'll perhaps ever have to a film
becoming a living and breathing mixtape.
The script - also
penned by Wright - is deceptively lean and simple, one that both adheres
to genre troupes while at the same time subverting them with atypically
rich characters and crackerjack dialogue. It also contains one humdinger of an opening action sequence,
one that fully establishes the stylistic tenor of the entire film.
In it we are introduced to "Baby" - that's B-A-B-Y - (in a star making
performance by Ansel Elgort), a miraculously gifted getaway driver that
has remarkable dexterity behind the wheel despite the fact that he has
music constantly blaring in ears via his iPod's ear buds.
He's motoring off a gang of bank robbers after a one particular
heist: Buddy (John Hamm), his girlfriend Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and the
short fused Griff (Jon Bernthal). Kicking off with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's
"Bellbottoms", this tour de force chase sequence has Baby skillfully
and effortlessly eluding police through the streets of Atlanta, bobbing
and weaving in and out of traffic and obstacles, and seemingly everything from his POV in the scene is edited smoothly
together and in tandem with the precise rhythm of the music he listens
to. It's one of the great introductory action scenes of the
From here we
learn a bit more about these respective characters, but Wright's spare
scripting shows great discipline in not spilling all of the details about
them too early on. We
discover that the mastermind behind this robbery is Doc (Kevin Spacey, in quietly menacing Spacey mode) and that the fresh faced and innocent
looking Baby is not a career criminal, but rather is working as Doc's
driver to pay off old debts. Coerced
somewhat against his will, Baby decides to do one last job for Doc to
secure his financial and literal freedom, but it takes multiple turns for
the worse when the new team he drives for - including the loose cannoned
Bats (a bat-shit deranged Jamie Foxx) - are unpredictably violent, leaving
Baby wanting to retire for good. He's
driven towards a life of normalcy because of a newfound relationship he
has in his life with a kindly waitress that he meets while at his favorite
restaurant, Debora (Lily James). Just
when things look like they're settling down for Baby and Debora, along
comes Doc back into Baby's world forcing him through threats of bodily
harm to him and his new girlfriend to help him with the biggest job of his
Wright has always
been a director that's been infatuated with colorful visuals, breakneck
editing, and, yes, sly music choices to embellish his entire film
catalogue. BABY DRIVER takes
his confident process one large logical step further in the manner that he
meticulously engineers and unleashes scene after scene that skillfully
choreographs action with precise musical accompaniment.
As for the film's blistering car chases themselves, one thing that
Wright nails is the fluidity of movement within the frame, not to mention
reality based physics, the latter of which seems to have been altogether
forgotten, say, in the FAST AND FURIOUS films.
There's a tactile and authentic weight to what's happening inside
and outside of Baby's car as it flees away from pursuers: you feel like
you're in there with the other criminal lowlifes.
Adding music that's specifically timed to the most minute of edits
gives BABY DRIVER - as previously mentioned - the grace of a Hollywood
musical of yesteryear.
Now, the reason
behind all of the music that permeates this film is wonderfully novel and
straightforward: Baby has severe and crippling tinnutus due to a childhood
car accident, so he constantly listens to music to block out its
debilitating effects. He has
multiple iPods in his pockets that he utilizes for just the right proper
moment. In short, when Baby's
driving his working to the soundtrack of his entire life, and his job as a
getaway driver is made all the more ironic considering that his condition
is the product of a tragic car accident.
Baby is no victim, though, as Ansel Elgort relays in a surprisingly
layered and smoothly commanding performance, which works against the type
of stereotypical cardboard cut-out characters that usually populate these
heist films. The villains of
BABY DRIVER are also wonderfully drawn and realized as well.
John Hamm, so good for so many years on TV's MAD MEN, plays his
lowlife with equal parts blistering intensity and level headed pragmatism,
which makes him unpredictably dangerous.
Spacey is perfectly in his wheelhouse as his deadpan delivering underground kingpin,
as is Foxx, who plays arguably the film's most darkly humorous and
frighteningly dangerous hoodlum.
resoundingly well defined character arcs and thankless performances, I
think that BABY DRIVER marginally fizzles out a bit with the underlining
romance between James' waitress and Elgort's criminal looking to come
clean (Wright never seems to find a plausible rationale as to why Debora
would be willing to so casually place herself at Baby's side amidst all
the danger he eventually places them both in...especially after what
appears to be a few dates). That,
and Debora feels more like a plot device that a fully fleshed out character. Momentum and pacing sometimes drags in a few sections,
which becomes more evident during the film's third act, which
unfortunately runs a bit too long for its own good and seems to have a
tricky time bringing the film to a sense of finality.
Just when you think that BABY DRIVER is coming to an end, it plods
along through more multiple endings, each one which could have provided
But you know what...I think that I'm needlessly being hypercritical here, because BABY DRIVER is a glorious celebration of cinematic ingenuity from Wright and is a rare breed of summer entertainment where every fiber of a director's esoteric fingerprints can't be felt throughout it. Despite its foibles, I nevertheless found myself being euphorically swept up by the mad and infectious genius of this whole enterprise. It's also a highly unique caper film that manages to impart a much needed dosage of adrenaline induced cleverness and slyness to a genre that's frankly getting repetitively stale and lethargic. Action thrillers are so dime-a-dozen these days that overwhelming sensations of deja vu settle in with nearly every one that I endure. I rarely like to use review descriptors akin to "It's unlike anything you've seen before," but that moniker fits BABY DRIVER. Plus, it's outrageously entertaining to sit through. The summer film season - minus a few key examples - has been one of crushing disappointments, but BABY DRIVER is a hypodermic needle to its heart to jumpstart it back to life.
It may also prompt you to reacquaint yourself with your dust covered iPod.