Thank goodness for Edgar Wright. After penning one of the more interesting and enjoyable MCU films (Ant-Man), Wright is back from his four year directorial hiatus to give us Baby Driver- a high octane satire on heist films with a killer soundtrack.
Thank goodness for some original content. For the past few years the cinema has been filled with sequels, comic origin stories, city leveling CGI fests, and nostalgia trips. I’m not saying they aren’t enjoyable; Mad Max: Fury Road, Logan, Civil War, and Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 have been some of the better action films of the decade. However, I think it’s fair to say that having a film that is completely made from scratch with original characters and plot, along with an all-star cast is refreshing. On the surface this film seems simple. Baby is a kid with a knack for stuntman level driving, paying off his debt to criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey American Beauty) as his getaway driver. As the film progress however, we find it to be so much more.
The film starts out with a bank heist sequence in which we first meet our main protagonist Baby, played by Ansel Elgort (The Fault in our Stars). Immediately the film brings out all the gimmicks, hardcore alpha males Griff and Buddy played by Jon Bernthal (Daredevil) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and their beautiful counterpart Darling (Eliza Gonzlez, Jem) robbing a bank in under 2 minutes as the camera watches from the point of view of Baby. As our characters escape law enforcement in an over the top but ultimately believable suspension of our own disbelief, Baby then turns up the gut busting rock anthem “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and thus begins our 2 hour rock and roll thrill ride.
The mistake made with a soundtrack heavy action film is the balance between music and plot. If used in an improper manner, films sometimes become 2 hour music video. It can also be used as a gimmick to mask a bad movie with good music. The plot of Baby Driver fall victim to neither. First, this film uses the soundtrack to advance the plot, add style to the action sequences, and give our main character a flaw we can relate with. Rather than Baby just listening to music for fun, it is revealed quickly in the film that as a child, he was in an accident that causes a constant ringing in his ears. Therefore, he uses the music to help drown the sound out and keep focus to properly do his job. The music also adds depth in his character. Second, rather than being silent and stoic writers use to add depth to a flat character, Baby’s bottled personality is given life through music as a connection to his memory of his mother and his friendship with Debra, played by Lily James (Cinderella). This love for music not only attracts him Debra but puts him in danger. During and second job, Bats (Jamie Foxx, Ray) cannot wrap his mind around a driver who wears headphones and listens classic rock at all times. So much so that Bats intentionally attempts to throw baby under the bus to Doc and the entire team in order to increase the danger around Baby. Finally, the music is used to keep a rapid pace throughout the film. During all driving and action sequences, the music is synced to the action taking place. Gunshots are on the same beat as the drums and bass, if a song is 2 minutes the chase is 2 minutes and so on. Imagine if Alice in Wonderland actually was written alongside of the Dark Side of the Moon except with Queen, The Beach Boys, Beck, and Danger Mouse. That’s what you get throughout this film. It pumps you up, brings you down, and gives you chills.
Amongst the car chases, over the top violence, and wise cracks, and rock & roll, this film contains a heart. Baby is shown as a foster child that is now the cartaker of his handicapped foster father. Bottled up from a tragedy early in his life that caused the death of his parents, Baby has a hard time finding friends and love interests. All he knows is driving for Doc, caring for his father and being around criminals. He has a hard time coping with his life as his final job in looming. Enter Debra. Through common ground and a similar taste in music, Debra acts as the catalyst for Baby’s potential new life. The film reflects a message that our decisions in life can continue to rule us if we surround ourselves with the wrong people. Although Baby shares similar interest to characters like Buddy and Darling, ultimately the life they live will only lead to a path of danger and death. With Debra, Baby can escape that life and become who he wants to be. Despite surrounding himself with the right people, his past such as our own sin is almost impossible to run from and has consequences no matter how far you run from it.
Finding flaws in this film was difficult for me. The comedy is on point. No jokes are forced and every character has their cliché trait from every serious heist film this movie is satirically poking at. The music is used in a flawless manner and the drive sequences are believable. The A list cast looks like they are having fun with each other as their chemistry mixes beautifully. Also, there is no over the top villain that will date this film in twenty years. That being said, some of the chemistry between James and Elgort is lacking at times. James specifically has trouble with Elgort’s lack of lines by delivering some wooden puns and cheesy advice with little response from Baby. By having two relatively new actors front running a film with one of the greatest TV actors and three academy awards, I would sometimes lose focus on the protagonists and find myself wanting more of the support. I also felt the film could have used less time on the silly quirks of each character and used that time to help build a better picture of criminal underworld created by Doc and his crew.
Once again, for two years it seems I’ve been waiting for a film like this. A great popcorn comedy with an original twist on a simple plot, wit, practicality, great acting, and characters with relatable flaws. It accomplishes as much, if not more, with the use of a soundtrack as a plot driver than Guardians of the Galaxy. The use of cheesy codenames and cameos from Flea and Big Boi add to the fun musical style of this film. The love story in conjunction with its action sequences allows this film to be enjoyable even on a date or a day rainy day. I have finally found the movie that could replace Oceans 11 as my go to popcorn flick whenever I want nothing more than forget the stresses in life.
Runtime: 112 minutes, Rated: R
Content Warning: Some Language and Violence throughout