It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised from time to time. Especially when it’s from highly esteemed director who hasn’t released anything in more than 4 years and got royally screwed out of a big budget project due to “creative differences.” But is Edgar Wright’s latest his best or has this been overhyped by legions of devoted fans? (And this introduction will come in handy when I review Dunkirk next week). Let’s dive in to Baby Driver.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young and talented wheelman with case of tinnitus that makes him more adept at getaways. He’s working for a criminal mastermind known only as Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pay off a debt from a indiscretion years back. While Baby has always been successful in getting his robbers including Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), Griff (Jon Bernthal) and Bats (Jamie Foxx) away from the crime scene and undetected by the authorities, we find our driver being forced to witness the brutality of the criminal underworld he’s a part of that he desperately wants to escape to take care of his adopted mute father and spend time for a charming waitress he encounters named Debbie (Lily James). Of course, Baby gets roped in for “one last job,” also known as “the job that destroys you and everyone you care about.”
While the plot is a standard affair, the style of this movie is anything but. Mixing an eclectic mix of 70s and 80s rock hits, the movie’s camera gives you some pretty incredible shots of slick car chases around Atlanta. Think something out of Fast & Furious by way of Guardians of the Galaxy. But it’s not just about listening to some classic tunes, the movie’s visuals sync up near perfectly with certain beats and verses from the songs to deliver a truly unique film experience that kept me glued to the screen.
Wright has always taken care of filling his movies with beats that would seem appropriate in each scene, and this film is no different. Similarly to Star-Lord’s love of music in the original Guardians, Baby performs all of his heists and walks around his everyday life with music pumping through his various and different-colored iPods. The reason for this love is curiously similar to James Gunn’s work, but Baby Driver truly feels like it’s own unique entity thanks to the camera work being done. Every time you hear burning rubber or a bullet popping, it replaces a beat or a verse meant for the track you happen to be listening. This was definitely a worthy follow up to Edgar Wright’s previous ode to music and visuals with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. However, his previous work also had a complex protagonist that you witnessed grow the hell up through a hilarious sequence of events, does Baby Driver have something of equal importance or better?
Eh…no, actually not at all. I don’t know whether Ansel Elgort is a weak actor or if his character was written very well, because Baby appears to be an absolute blank page for a large portion of this film. Honestly, he’s quiet for huge swathes of time while the veteran actors speak around him. Every time he does open his mouth, there’s not much there to go by. Besides a love of cars and music, I really didn’t know who Baby actually was. Okay, I knew he was a “good kid” because everyone around him said he was just roped up in a world of crime and he never meant to hurt anyone. But that really felt like a weak justification for the audience to sympathize with Baby.
Not helping is that he’s given an adorable romantic interest in Lily James’ Debbie, who does pack a bit more personality than our titular protagonist but she’s mostly used as a plot device in the latter half of the film as opposed to a fleshed out character. It’s strange to me that Edgar Wright would trip up on a romantic interest like that especially in light of the aforementioned Scott Pilgrim vs. the World having two very well-developed romantic interests and even the struggling relationship of Shaun of the Dead. It’s not bad mind you, as Elgort and James do have chemistry with each other that you could believe it their flirting and dates, but it just felt comparatively weaker compared to the director’s previous efforts.
What could have been affecting the relationship may have been the all star cast tearing up the screen every time they’re on. Seriously, Hamm, Fox, Gonzalez and Spacey are on freaking point here. To be honest, they’re the reason I walked out of the theater with a pep in my step because I just enjoyed each of their characters’ interactions with each other. Filled with romance, betrayal, mistrust, and scheming; every minute featuring these four thespians is a joy to be hold. Jamie Foxx in particular was thoroughly fun to watch as a crazed gunman killing people almost indiscriminately but talking trash as he does it. Spacey almost made me forget he was in atrocious talking cat movie last year with his slick, matter of fact demeanor and his intimidating presence among these gang of killers.
But Jon Hamm takes the MVP award of the whole damn cast for being downright frightening. When you first meet him, he’s as charming as he was on Mad Men, but as his character’s girlfriend points out, “you don’t want to piss him off.” Because when he’s in rage mode, nobody is safe. Hamm is a force of freaking nature in the final act of this film, and his every move had me in knots wondering what he was going to do next. While he spoke in a calm, reserved manner, his eyes communicated pure, unhinged insanity that kept me riveted the whole time.
It’s odd that a supporting cast pleased way more than the protagonist of our piece, but that’s because all of their characters had plenty of personality to show off. Elgort’s Baby is a Hat, a character that exists solely for the audience to slip into place and to experience his colorful, vibrant world while he’s as interesting as watching paint dry. It’s not a deal breaker for me as I was singing this movie’s praises as I walked out the theater; but having a month to reflect upon it, Baby is a major weakness for me when I consider the film as a whole simply by how omnipresent he is in this film and how integral he’s set up to function in it.
And yet, the supporting cast really do lift this movie up for me as well as the style that oozes from every frame of the film. Edgar Wright clearly wanted to have a project to show off his technical filmmaking prowess and I believe he’s made his point that he’s a highly accomplish wizard of the screen. From the music choices to the framing of shootouts to the choreography of gunshots syncing smoothly with the rhythm of the soundtrack to the peppy nature of the camerawork, this was Wright’s time to shine as a director. And yet, I can’t call this his magnum opus as I’ve seen much stronger writing for a protagonist from him elsewhere. Having said that, his other characters picked up the slack for a weak lead, so it balances out in the end.
I really did enjoy this movie, but it’s a very competitive year to be the best of 2017. Baby Driver may not wind up on my best of the best list, but I’m still recommending for people to check this one out. For the one flaw I discussed at length and the fact everything else was absolutely amazing, I’m giving this a low…