It’s not often that a film can come along and do something completely original or even mostly original while at the same time being highly entertaining, action-packed, funny and well-acted all at the same time. Edgar Wright’s newest film, Baby Driver, does all that and more.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a “driver” for some pretty bad people. After a car accident that ends up killing both of his parents, Baby resorts to stealing things for kicks. He eventually steals from the wrong guy – criminal kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey), who makes him pay back his debt by doing jobs for him due to his immeasurable skills behind the wheel. It is here that he meets some ne’er-do-wells with code names like Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). Baby also meets a beautiful young waitress named Deborah (Lily James) and hopes to commit “one last score” before leaving with her forever; however, things don’t go exactly as planned.
Wright is mostly known for the “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy,” which entails his early works Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. In those films, he developed a signature style of filmmaking that he carried over to his American debut with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. All of his movies use a certain kind of hyperkinetic energy along with quick cuts, fast-paced editing and almost seamless movement through highly stylized sequences. The difference between Wright and most other stylized directors is that he uses these elements to enhance the story rather than it just being there to act as a flashy film style.
In this film, the soundtrack is important. Hell, I would argue that the soundtrack is nearly as important as all the other elements of the film if not moreso. The thing about the music in this movie is that even though it is providing an almost-narration of the scene it’s playing over in the film, it never feels obnoxious or too on-the-nose at all. It is the perfect accompaniment to the film. I can’t even imagine the work that went into selecting music for the movie because every little action and movement is perfectly timed to the musical beats. Every gunshot, every step and even snappy lines of dialogue are made that much more effective because they move to the rhythm of the soundtrack.
The sound design itself is another major element of the film that is on full display. Throughout the movie, we essentially hear the world through Baby’s ears. Because of his ‘hum in the drum’ (Tinnitus), he keeps earbuds constantly pumping music into his ears that usually accentuates the situation that he is in. That becomes our soundtrack. Whenever an earbud is popped out or an iPod is smashed, the music is cut off and we hear the action as well as a slight ringing at times. Yes, we even sometimes hear through his debilitating annoyance. The entire film is experienced through Baby’s perspective. I don’t believe there is one solitary scene that exists in the film without his character somewhere in the scene even if he is just in the background.
The acting is off-the-charts terrific. Ansel Elgort is perfect as the lead. He is calm, collected and the right amount of anxious and tense during the most important parts. Ansel was only seen in previous inferior works like the tepid Divergent series and Paper Towns but also stole the show in the critically-acclaimed The Fault in Our Stars. I hope to see Ansel in more mature works like this in the future. Kevin Spacey is at his best here in his usual intimidating criminal role. After his soul-sucking appearance in last year’s Nine Lives, it’s good to see him back on track as well. Jamie Foxx is a pretty nasty person in this one and he is equally funny and terrifying throughout the film. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez play a pretty great pair of crooks with Hamm at his best since Mad Men went off the air. Outside of The Town, Hamm has not been utilized to his full potential in the film world but this could be a step in the right direction. Even though she has not been mentioned much, Lily James is just an absolute delight in the film as well. She does the doe-eyed image of innocence so well and she is the perfect companion for Baby.
A very interesting thing about the film is the dialogue itself. Obviously, Edgar Wright is an excellent scrreenwriter and has written some incredibly funny scripts for his previous films. However, this one is very different. The film itself is almost like a musical played out as an action-thriller but for the first ten minutes or so, there is virtually no dialogue. The film starts out with a raucous car chase and then a very long but exciting shot of Baby going to get coffee for the crew before returning to the rendezvous point. The dialogue itself pops up only when it is absolutely necessary. Most of the time, the music and actions of the characters are enough to necessitate exactly what is going on in the film. Foxx has most of the heavy dialogue scenes and does so with relative ease; being a stand-up comic before he became an award-winning actor, Foxx is able to spit out monologues effortlessly and never make it seem like it’s dialogue that’s been carefully written out for him. One of the relationships in the film is between Baby and his deaf foster father that he cares for so even while we do get sign language and subtitles, there is no spoken dialogue in those scenes. For a movie filled with sound and music, stuff like that really sticks out.
For you action fans out there, not to worry because the action sequences are incredible. Unlike my previous reveiew of Michael Bay’s wankfest, this film’s action scenes never seem extraneous or overlong. They are edited together in a beautiful manner and contain some of the greatest stunt driving ever captured on film. Not only those scenes but later scene in the film involving gunplay and other stunt work is equally inspired and only adds to the overall film.
This is a damn work of art. Make sure that you see this film. I know I’ll be seeing it more than once this year.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)