Baby Driver (2017)
Directed by Edgar Wright
Rarely does a director come along whose work is so in tune with cinema that his work can be considered classical immediately upon release. Mind you, his movies aren't perfect but they're damn close and they're entertaining, too.
Baby Driver centers on the titular Baby, a young man in debt to a crime lord, paying off said debt one job at a time by putting to use his exceptional skills behind the wheel. After another successful heist, with Baby successfully evading police as the getaway driver, his criminal boss claims that the debt will be considered even after one more heist. Later, Baby goes to a cafe where he strikes up a friendship with the kindred-spirited waitress, Debora. But Baby soon realizes that he has things to lose and his boss won't let him retire from his "professional" escapades, intent on using Baby's driving skills as his lucky charm. The criminal team starts to fall apart while Baby tries desperately to keep Debora safe.
Let's talk about what be the most prominent, fun aspect of Wright's new cinematic masterpiece (and I say that with a pinch of salt). One of the most beautiful things about Baby Driver is how well the soundtrack is woven into the film. The music and sound design is a character unto itself. It plays perfectly to the atmosphere, reflecting and emphasizing Baby, himself. It's not only fun, helping to set the tone, but even helps define the characters. The soundtrack enunciates the pace of the film and breathes along with each beat. Baby Driver feels like the strangest, most appealing mashup of the action and musical genres.
Beyond the incredibly thought out score, Wright's writing is more of his quick-witted, dramatic humor, even if it sometimes doesn't fit the characters. The story is well-written with only a few exchanges here and there feeling forced or over-acted, or with the sequences feeling out of place. Buddy has a dozen cops shooting at him while he's standing in the open with his back to them and he turns out fine? Regardless, Wright manages to fit an organic, believable romance alongside the thrill and action, and that's refreshing in itself.
Luckily, Ansel Elgort plays Buddy charmingly. He's a lost soul in a difficult position, trying to do his best, and I fully believe in his anguish. When he finds the similarly lost Deborah, played by Lily James, the two connect immediately. Their similar senses of humor, style, age, and taste in music immediately bridge the gap and they're visibly stricken with each other. Other characters are more basic, but play their parts perfectly nonetheless. Buddy, Monica, Bats, everyone is a one-dimensional plot-device but it's fine, because the actors have chemistry and feel natural.
The action is a rush but restrained enough to feel realistic. It's shot in a way that makes sense without coddling the viewer. Yes, there are some quick-cut scenes but they're the stressful, peak scenes where the situation isn't supposed to be 100% clear anyway. Wright, cinematographer Bill Pope, and editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss work seamlessly, with every cut and camera angle feeling fluid; their visuals are the choreography to the soundtrack.
The combination of Baby's past and his predilection for music only enhances the atmosphere of the film. Any moment without music (and without Debora) is presided over by an ominous, tense ringing sound in the background, the kind of annoying buzz that you hear when you have tinnitus. Baby has tinnitus. That little detail pulls us into his shoes. At moments where we might be hoping for Baby to pull a James Bond and trounce these evildoers, that ringing reminds us that Baby is basically just a kid that's trying to get away from a bad crowd and protect his only real friends.
What may be the only fault in this movie, as with others from Wright, is the lack of any mystery. One of the greatest accomplishments in art, in general, is leaving space with which the audience can accurately fill in the blanks. But Wright is having none of that. He takes out precious time to waste on nearing-on-egregious exposition, having characters explain backgrounds, sometimes more than once, then giving us a flashback (read: more than once) to really emphasize things that really don't need to be explained. Just to emphasize something that doesn't need to be explained, let me give you an example: Doc, Baby's boss, is painted as a thought-out, put-together, hard-to-reach mastermind with minimal moral compass but as soon as he sees Baby and Debora embrace he decides to help them, explaining for the audience, "I was in love once."
Wright has a penchant for indulging in details, but Baby Driver shows there's a point where movies can over-indulge. Fast and the Furious is a fresh rehash on the Point Break story and creates drama and tension because it leaves the question of whether or not Dom and his 'gang' are actually criminal masterminds until the last possible second; Ocean's Eleven works out like magic trick, making the audience constantly second-guess about what's going on and then taking some time to explain how the trick worked. Baby Driver is much more straightforward, succeeding more on the action than the story.
That's not even to mention the strange dichotomy that is Baby, a profound driver who's seemingly a natural when it comes to crime. Despite being mostly innocent and holding a strong moral compass, the boundaries for his goodness come crashing down when pressed. He sticks to his guns and tries desperately not to kill, but he's just too good to realize how good of a criminal he his. Despite struggling with his morality and having a good heart, crime seems to be what he's best at. He shows no interest in professional racing, pursues music as a hobby, and his only dream is to drive around the country and listen to music. On the flip side, every instinct he has while in stressful situations leads him to make the right choice, making Baby one of the most interesting characters in a while: he's not a genius, he's not a martial arts expert, he's not a heartless assassin, he's not a charismatic drug lord, Baby is just a kid who likes music and happens to be amazing at crime-oriented skills. That's what makes the movie so fun.
TL;DR: I could go on and on about how I'd love to see more of Baby's driving (I mean, who doesn't love some awesome drifting) but just when the feeling of needing more action starts to crop up, the tension builds and Debora comes out of nowhere to tie the romance back in. Ya, Baby Driver isn't a perfect movie, but damn does it have heart. The leads balance each other so well that their relationships translate organically on screen and fully make up for any missing explosions. I want Baby and Debora to be together.
- Acting – 16 / 20
- Story – 15 / 20
- Cinematography – 17 / 20
- Soundtrack – 10 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 8 / 10
- Action/Crime – 8 / 10
- Other – 5 / 10