Car Chases, Music and Love, Oh My!
Never before have the loves of speed and killer tunes come together so magically as they do in filmmaker Edgar Wright’s latest, a genre-crossing masterpiece with music on the brain and burnt rubber in its soul. It’s called Baby Driver and it’s a mob movie. It’s also a heist movie, and even a musical... of sorts. But while there might be music and there might be choreography, it is NOT your ordinary musical. Wright combines his love of car chases and things that go fast with a passion for music to create something truly unique that defies classification and feels like nothing he’s done before.
Don’t expect Wright’s signature frenetic editing techniques, rapid-fire montages, and close-up cutaways. For the most part, he doesn’t do that here. Baby Driver is slick, well-paced, and just stylish as hell. And there’s even a fairly straightforward fairy-tale element that feels fresh and inviting, even in a world of gritty action and brutal violence. Wright immediately grabs our attention in the opening minutes with a ridiculously gravity-defying car chase sequence during which we are introduced to the titular Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars), a fresh-faced, sunglasses-wearing hellion behind the wheel who is driving the getaway car for a gang of bank robbers. They all work for Doc (Kevin Spacey), the mastermind behind the crew and the kingpin of an underworld crime ring funded by bank heists, gun running, and whatever other bad things they can get into.
Doc never uses the same crew twice, save for Baby. That’s just how good the young kid is behind the wheel. We learn that Baby suffers from tinnitus caused by a childhood accident, so he drowns out the ringing in his ears with a constant barrage of music playing through his earbuds. He’s mostly quiet, only speaking when spoken to, and often becomes the object of derision from others in the crew, including Jamie Foxx as the loose cannon Bats, and unrepentant bad guy Buddy (Jon Hamm). Baby prefers to mentally separate himself from all the bad stuff going on around him, but when behind the wheel, his stoic professionalism gives way to a heavy-footed, high-gear fury guaranteed to knock your socks off with some of the best stunt driving you’ll ever see.
The first thing we notice about Wright’s film is that every turn, every bump in the road, and every shift of the gears is perfectly choreographed to the soundtrack’s pumping beats. We're along for the ride as even the car’s windshield wipers react to the tempo of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bellbottoms pulsating through Baby’s iPod. Or maybe the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire pulses in perfect rhythm to the throbbing of The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat. This is not your typical soundtrack of over-played classic rock mainstays. Wright manages to build a highly believable, living, breathing atmosphere around what we’re listening to. You have to see it to totally get it, but once you do, the high level of expert filmmaking on display is sure to have you in awe. It is pure poetry in motion.
There’s also a love story thread that adds tons of warmth and a beautiful sweet spot that successfully counter the near-overwhelming menace of the film’s bulk. Elgort's Baby falls for a sparkling young waitress played by Lily James (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and the two share a wonderful chemistry together. She’s in a dead-end job with no ties to her current situation in life, she loves music, and she meets Baby. Watch the magic happen.
Baby Driver is a volatile boost of MPH to thrust a much-needed spirit and a welcome individualism into a summer movie season deprived of anything that doesn’t explode or wear tights. So plug in, hit play, and hold on, because Baby’s in control.
(Released by Tristar and rated “R” by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.