Was He Slow?: A Review of “Baby Driver”

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The summer’s most fun and excitingly fresh film has officially arrived with Edgar Wright’s wholly exceptional Baby Driver. Led by a catchy and calculated soundtrack, the film presents exhilarating car-chase scenes with an ensemble of precisely handled characters behind-the-wheel, gaining traction from its impressively meticulous opener through to its explosive climax. Baby Driver is perhaps Wright’s greatest achievement yet — and with a track record as stellar as his, that’s saying a lot.

Following his remarkable comedic genre mashups with films like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, in Baby Driver, Wright strips back the pulpy silliness his work is famous for. Instead, here he exhibits a sense of realism and seriousness he’s not yet shown off, but still finds enough space in the script to place well-timed and often hilarious jokes as well, striking a near-perfect balance of dramatic moments and comedic ones.

Our hero is Ansel Elgort as Baby — yes, B-A-B-Y, Baby — a young but experienced getaway driver with just a couple more jobs to go before he’s officially paid off a long-standing debt to his boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey), and can leave the dirty business altogether. Baby doesn’t belong in the seedy world of bank-robbing, standing out among a supporting cast of scumbags you’ll get to know better throughout the film, most notably Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Darling (Eiza González). Baby’s a good kid, and clearly an outsider to his associates, who constantly question what his deal is. But his quaint personality or quiet nature doesn’t matter, because Baby is a phenomenal driver, able to pull off miraculous stunts and make split-second decisions that land him at the top of the game. So much so that Doc wouldn’t want any other driver for any situation, citing Baby as his “lucky charm.”

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The most interesting detail of the film comes in the form of a hearing disability that afflicts Baby, producing a loud hum at all times which he drowns out through music and a set of earbuds connected to an iPod Classic (God, the iPod Classic was an awesome piece of technology, wasn’t it?). The action of the film is choreographed around Baby’s infatuation with music. The wonderful soundtrack is made up of vintage hits, with the bangs of guns and slamming of car doors synced up perfectly to the beat or lyrics of the songs in an effective way, making Baby Driver as much of a musical as it is a crime drama (side note: watch for the best use of “Tequila” in a film since Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). Baby plans his getaways around his playlist, singing and dancing along in the car as his co-workers execute their mission, and even going as far as to restart songs or rewind them when things don’t go exactly right. We actually only ever see the heists from Baby’s point of view in the getaway car, but Baby’s actions and reactions keep the proceedings entirely engaging anyways.

I will say that the film has a much more successful first and second act when compared to the finale. The first half is so unconventional and exciting to experience; it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and it’s all executed flawlessly. Unfortunately, the film takes a more standard and clichéd approach to its finale. Although that’s not to say it isn’t still a blast to watch, cause its final moments result in some of the most fun action set-pieces I’ve seen in a film all year.

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The exhilarating action scenes are rivaled by the fast-paced, witty dialogues, which are made better by the great supporting cast. You’d expect no less than expert input from Spacey, whose role as the boss and sort-of mentor to Baby is spot-on. The husband and wife duo of Buddy and Darling are a delight to watch, too, and it’s always a pleasure to watch Jon Hamm do his thing. But the best work actually comes from Foxx, who is terrific as Bats, the most bat-shit insane character Baby is partnered with (fitting name, I suppose). Bats managed to keep me on my toes, constantly leaving me to wonder not if, but when he’ll eventually snap at a moment’s notice and get Baby in more trouble than he bargained for. Outside of Baby’s crime bubble is Debora (Lily James), a cute waitress at a local diner that Baby frequents, whose playful singing of Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y” catches Baby’s ear. She becomes the love interest in this story, but holds her own as more than just eye candy or a typical damsel in distress.

Baby Driver moves quickly, providing some of the most fun chase scenes in recent memory, along with a unique plot device and a clever, pop culture-heavy script that would make even Quentin Tarantino blush. Wright utilizes every aspect of the medium to its fullest potential here, treating his audience with visual and aural splendor alike. Baby Driver is as impressive and forward-thinking as it is genuinely thrilling, easily becoming one of the year’s best films.

5 stars out of 5

— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

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