Released: June 21, 2017 (U.K.)
Length: 113 minutes
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx
The entrance and use of style can really make a film stand out, especially when a director has patented their own recognizable direction. After some time away from the directing chair, one of the best British directors returns with Baby Driver, a superb showcase of what audio storytelling can contribute to a production.
Set in the sunny streets of Los Angeles, Baby (Ansel) is a ferociously skilled yet reluctant getaway driver, endlessly pulling off jobs for Doc (Kevin Spacey) and his ever-changing string of heists and rotating teams. What makes him tick is an infectious fascination with music; he’s always going around with his earphones whether it’s swinging along the streets or rocking the steering wheel to drown out the tinnitus ringing in his ears. When he meets Debora (Lily James) in a diner, he makes plans to get out of the crime business but Doc has plans to keep him around regardless. From the moment it starts, Baby Driver hooks the viewer in with its soundtrack and it proudly wears its badge as a fast-paced heist film. Transitioning smoothly from one scene to the other the film never halts as we learn about the characters before firing them directly into a barrage of action scenes without a single throwaway scene in-between. Even at the points where the film isn’t rocking the tunes it’s working to show Baby and Debra’s predicament, raising the tension and interplay between the characters with plenty of development. The fast and frenetic chase scenes round off the package, barely ever stopping to breath and boasting oodles of unpredictability.
The characters within every scene go far to engaging the audience. Baby himself is instantly likeable; despite his questionable turns behind the wheel, he has his limits and a conscience that carries through everything he does. Elgort manages to portray the character fluidly without too much dialogue as he often makes use of sign language and facial expressions to get across the character’s unabashed love of music. Kevin Spacey’s Doc is professional and clean cut, a firm anchor for the entire team to be based around; his authoritative mannerisms driving home his position. As for the members of the heist team, they’re all very well-defined. “Buddy” (Jon Hamm) has quite a few dark secrets lying under his gentlemanly hood, Eiza Gozalez’s “Darling” has a laidback personality that sits somewhere in the middle and the unhinged nature of Jamie Foxx’s “Bats” creates a great deal of unease that ends up putting a lot of pressure on Baby as the film goes on. The only real setback felt by the characterization here is Deborah; she’s straightforward and smooth just like Baby and the romance that forms is very believable, but at the same time she could have had a bit more to do across the film’s narrative. Outside of that though, everyone gives a smashing performance with some brilliant writing that shows off the efficiency of the heist operations and Baby’s growing disconnect with each of them.
Music is a cornerstone to everything in Baby Driver and the way the soundtrack is woven into every aspect of the production is nothing short of stellar filmmaking. In every scene the choice of music, or lack thereof, does multiple things at once in a naturalistic way; it sets the tone of every scene, while the lyrics of each individual song draw you into the main character’s perspective. Simultaneously, when the music isn’t playing, you’ll pick up a slight ringing, signifying Baby’s ear condition while also conveying the disconnect he feels in his debt to Doc’s gang. In chase scenes and other action sequences the music is perfectly timed, speeding up and slowing down the tempo to build tension and suspense. It’s a phenomenal use of sound that populates the film from top to bottom. On top of all that, the camera work is highly precise, swapping between cuts with a deft hand, particularly in the moments where Baby’s vehicle of choice is being chased by the authorities which all use real stunts and cars to generate the feeling of thrilling intensity. There’s also plenty of little tricks layered throughout the composition too; the seamless 360 panning that mimics a record in motion and the way these shots fade into bits of music memorabilia to step from one scene to the next. Towards the film’s end, the sunny streets give way to darker low-lit environments which shows how desperate things have gotten; as this happens, the action also becomes grittier, a great final send-off all around.
Wickedly entertaining and fast paced, Baby Driver, aided by Wright’s personality and wit, soars higher than so many other titles released today. Add to that the razor-sharp slickness of the editing, choreography and soundtrack and you have one of the best and most exhilarating films of the year so far.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars (Brilliant)