Baby Driver (2017)
Rated R for violence and language throughout
Score: 4 out of 5
Baby Driver is about what I expected coming from Edgar Wright, one of my favorite filmmakers working in Hollywood today. A lighthearted crime romp with a side of romance, this may not be a particularly substantial film, but it's got enough style and substance to make it one of the best films of the summer so far, proving that Wright can work well outside his geek-culture comfort zone while providing a great starring turn for Ansel Elgort. It's simply a blast and a half, loaded with great car chases, fun characters, a twisting and captivating plot, and one killer soundtrack. It's simple, it's straightforward, and it's awesome.
Our protagonist, a getaway driver known only as Baby, suffers from tinnitus as a result of a car accident when he was a kid, one that also took the lives of his parents. As such, he's always listening to music to drown out the ringing in his ears, played from one of a number of classic click-wheel iPods (now that's a phrase that will make any '00s kids feel old) that provide the eclectic soundtrack to the jobs he does for Doc, a local crime boss who Baby owes a debt to. He lives with his old, deaf foster dad Joseph, who knows that he's involved with criminals and longs to see him get out of that life. After seemingly paying off his debt, Baby falls for a diner waitress named Debora, the two hoping to run off and start a life together, but Doc, who sees Baby as his "lucky charm" and his best driver, won't let him get out so easily.
There are three big reasons to see this, and those are the car chases, the soundtrack, and the interplay of the two. Edgar Wright does an outstanding job weaving the music right into the action, to the point where it almost feels as if one is watching a music video as Baby tears up the streets of Atlanta with a his crew in tow. While it homages films from Vanishing Point to The French Connection, Baby Driver is definitely its own beast, the editing timed to match the beat of each song yet still remaining coherent to watch on screen. There are four major car-chase set pieces in this film, and all of them are top-shelf action scenes that are among some of the best of the year.
Central to all of them, of course, is Baby, the titular driver. Ansel Elgort steps away from his pretty-boy type casting to play a character who, on top of his hearing problems, is also implied (though never stated) to be autistic; at the very least, socializing doesn't come naturally to him, and the "planning" stages of Doc's heist typically see him paying attention to the plan but otherwise saying so little that his crewmates think he's dozing off. Music forms a major part of his identity, ironically because of his impaired hearing, and it's through him that we get most of this film's soundtrack literally playing through his earbuds. He honestly reminded me of myself in some ways, and not just for his affection for the classic-model iPod. Elgort does a great job playing Baby as a guy who feels just a bit "off" in his mannerisms, between his manner of speaking and how he rocks out when listening to his music without a care as to who might be watching, and who doesn't fit in with the criminals around him in the slightest. It is here where we're introduced to Lily James' Debora. As Baby's love interest, James gives plenty of depth to what could've been a flat girlfriend role, the English actress' Southern sweetheart accent never cracking and her character coming off as a charmer who grows genuinely concerned upon realizing that Baby's working with criminals. I bought into the growing relationship between Elgort and James that served as the film's heart, something that Edgar Wright has always excelled at doing, sneaking "chick flicks" into movies that are otherwise aimed squarely at young male geeks (a zombie film in Shaun of the Dead, a video game-focused action-comedy in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Beyond the two of them, the gangsters in Baby's life are made up of a who's who of folks that include Kevin Spacey's Doc, the mastermind who serves as a second father figure to Baby, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzales as the lovers Buddy and Darling, and Jamie Foxx as the unpredictable Bats. While not particularly fleshed out, all of the actors involved give it their all as they go through double-crosses and false camaraderie masking a desire to stab each other in the back.
The Bottom Line
While driven primarily by the roar of its chase scenes and soundtrack, there's also enough in the tank here to give it some mileage beyond that. (I sincerely apologize for all the car puns.) If this is what came of Edgar Wright leaving Ant-Man, then I hope he stays out of the superhero movie machine and keeps making fun, creative films like this.