By Jack Mansfield
(very mild spoilers for Baby Driver)
I’m never not excited for a new Edgar Wright movie, and when the first trailer for Baby Driver (2017) surfaced online, I knew instantly that I was going to love it. The first of Wright’s films that I saw was Hot Fuzz (2007) back when I was about 13 or so, and never before had I seen a film so packed with visual gags, intelligent dialogue and a toe-tapping soundtrack to boot. I remember being mesmerised by how expertly crafted everything about the film had been, and went on to watch some of Wright’s other films including the rest of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy – Shaun of the Dead (2004) and The World’s End (2013) – and his faithful adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). All of these films feel very personal in their execution, and Baby Driver is no exception.
Set in Atlanta, Georgia, the film follows Baby (Ansel Elgort), a getaway driver who is forced to work for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). When Baby was a kid, he was in a car accident leaving him with both parents dead and severe tinnitus, which he drowns out with music; not just any music, but one of the best compilation soundtracks alongside Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Awesome Mixes. As Doc’s ‘lucky charm’, Baby is coerced into a “next job is the last job” deal, pulling off heists with charismatic yet dangerous criminals such as Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx). Add to that a desire to escape his life of crime with girlfriend Debora (Lily James), and Wright is able to create a tense, thrilling narrative that never shifts down a gear.
And Baby Driver is already in top gear when the curtain rises on a vibrant Atlanta. As the heist crew leave the car to go and rob the bank across the street, the audience is given their first indication of how vital a role music plays throughout the film, with Baby rocking out to blues-rock song ‘Bellbottoms’. The opening scene just oozes cool as Baby drums to the beat, waiting for his crew to return with the cash. When they do, however, Baby’s character switches from playful to focused, as he pulls off near-impossible escapes through bustling, sun-soaked Atlanta. For anyone else, ditching the cops with more yanks of the handbrake than learning to drive with your parents is an unenviable task, but Baby makes it look like child’s play. As an opening scene, it’s the perfect introduction to our protagonist, and also acts as a microcosm for the film in its entirety; its use of music is so slick, so smart that you simply can’t help but grin all the way through.
I’ve seen some aesthetically stylish films in my time, but I don’t think any of them have been as vividly colourful as Baby Driver. It’s absolutely soaked in rich colour: the blazing red Subaru in the opening scene; the neon lights of Bo’s Diner; two of an abundance of examples I could give. From start to finish it’s simply beautiful to look at. A lot of films of this genre tend to go for darker palates (Drive and, more recently, John Wick: Chapter 2 come to mind) but perhaps this is another reason why Baby Driver feels so fresh; despite still being a drama at heart, Baby Driver feels genuinely fun. Granted, the grittier films in this sub-genre are still fantastic, but Wright has delivered a solid addition to the genre whilst at the same time subverting it. Combine this with his established directorial tropes and it makes for one of the coolest films in recent memory.
But Wright’s vision couldn’t have been fully carried out without a strong cast, and thankfully we’ve got just that. Ansel Elgort is brilliant as Baby, balancing a quiet apprehensiveness towards the rest of his crew with a burning desire to escape the seedy criminal underworld he’s forced to work in by Kevin Spacey’s Doc. Spacey is great in almost everything he’s worked on, and his turn as crime kingpin is both charming and sinister: another in a long line of charming but sinister characters he’s played. And the heist crew he employs, made up of Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez and Jamie Foxx, are equally as charismatic and intriguing. It’s easy to forget that these characters (with the exception of Baby and Debora) are bad people and only until the denouement was I reminded of this.
I really loved Baby Driver. It’s not often a film comes along where everything fits so strongly from start to finish, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the case here. If I were forced to give a negative, I’d say that it could do with being maybe five to ten minutes shorter, but that doesn’t mean it’s a wasted ten minutes by any stretch. Baby Driver is another excellent film from Edgar Wright; on no account let this one drift past you.