Released: 28th June 2017
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Lily Cole
Baby, a young getaway driver, is coerced into working high end heists for criminal kingpin, Doc. His unique approach to his work all changes when he meets Debora, a waitress and the muse of his future away from his life of crime.
“Shop. Let’s talk it.“
If you have ever sat in a room full of devout cinephiles and talked about some of the great car chases in cinematic history you can be sure that at least one person will mention one of the following titles: The French Connection, Ronin, Bullitt, The Blues Brothers, Vanishing Point. The talk will come with an ounce of joy and admiration for the film and the impact that it had on them and their love of the genre. Yet, with each great film must come a great score. Something that enlivens the rush of the chase, fires up the engines and yet remain cool and composed to drive (pun!) the action along. Everything you need to know about this films tone, the thrills to expect and its multifarious range of tunes, is delivered to you in the first five minutes.
Baby Driver sees Ansel Elgort (he of The Fault in Our Stars fame) as the eponymous young getaway driver who has been in the employ of local kingpin, Doc (Kevin Spacey), since he was old enough to reach the pedals. Thanks to a childhood car accident he has tinnitus and must therefore wear earphones, connected to a MP3 player (remember those?), filled with a vast library of songs to drown out the ringing. His playful and thoughtful demeanour outside the job often falls foul of his mysterious and dangerous colleagues, distrusting of anyone they don’t understand their methods. Baby’s world changes when he meets the sweet-natured diner waitress Debora (Lily Cole), who shows him a world away from this life of crime actually exists.
From the opening punchy bluesy beats Baby’s skilled moves and attitude composes its own way across the streets and avenues, evading the authorities by using a curious blend of precognitive tactical manoeuvres and pure luck all while the knock, spills and thrills meet the tempo and pounding forms of the song. Is music the source of his power, his muse, the Chi to his soul? Or all the above? The energy levels rise from easy going to palpable to smooth and back to intense so freely that you will forget that you are in a cinema and not in the car with him.
While in the midst of the story you can almost forget what the film is about and who is moving it along. Strip away the theatrics, cool sounds, and drama and you’ll find that what encapsulates this energetic caper are the sterling performances of nearly anybody that graces the screen. The supporting cast made of Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Lily Cole, Kevin Spacey, Eiza González, bring together a compelling force of talent unseen outside of a Quentin Tarantino film.
It wouldn’t be unfair to note that Wright has been influenced by the works and acerbic prowess of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez as noted in scenes where the gang convene in a cold and isolated room to discuss the heist or the violently cool brute going off on a rampage of destruction, like that seen in Reservoir Dogs or Desperado, among some others.
To call Baby Driver original would be an overstatement given the influences it has absorbed, but to call it unique is pretty accurate and for a very specific reason. The blissful pace makes for a simple and very effective story, so much that it doesn’t actually have a beginning or middle but rather a very controlled and stealthy third act only. It’s almost unheard of to write against the grain of a script like that. Wright’s method of direction is to not chop from one scene to the next every couple minutes but to allow the camera and actor to glide from one angle and corner through cars, buildings and pedestrians.
And the soundtrack is anything but linear too. It’s an eclectic mixture of Dutch prog rock (Hocus Pocus, Focus), Motown ballads (Easy, The Commodores), sparkly glam (Debora, T-Rex), upbeat Jazz (Unsquare Dance, Dave Brubeck), swinging rhythm and blues (Harlem Shuffle, Bob & Earl) and seventies rock (Brighton Rock, Queen). The blend is every bit as punchy and indirect as the story itself.
It’s Wrights tour de force homage to all things fast, smooth, musical and everything in between. It maybe his finest work since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or at least his most mature. The combined power of the score and story oozes cool constantly.