Baby Driver FILM REVIEW
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Elza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal
Rated R for violence and language throughout
Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes
****1/2 out of *****
Photo: Tri-Star Pictures
Debora (Lily James) and Baby (Ansel Elgort) soon discover there's nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide in Edgar Wright's crime/thriller BABY DRIVER.
The heist film. By definition it's a film where we witness the planning, execution and aftermath of a series of heists or in some cases one big score. The plot itself could be presented under the guise of different genres such as comedy, drama, action/adventure or thriller. They often always involve a cadre of professionals or specialists who, other than their particular set of skills, bring a certain dynamic to the team. The boss. The wheel man. The muscle. The brain. The hired gun. The safe cracker. The heist film is a tried and true movie staple and has been done countless times. In the past forty years films such as OCEAN'S ELEVEN (2001), RESERVOIR DOGS, POINT BREAK (1991), DOG DAY AFTERNOON and HEAT (1995) have provided film goers with entertaining, engaging, hair-raising, suspenseful and guffaw filled escapism. Writer/Director Edgar Wright subverts expectations, after all he's really only known for his comedies, and does just that and more with his latest film, a crime thriller, BABY DRIVER.
As previously mentioned, Wright is best known for his comedies, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, THE WORLD'S END and SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD. With each film Wright injected something fresh and original into trope-riddled story lines which film goers are all too familiar with. In addition with each film he's grown as a filmmaker and became a name that many would love to see tackle something different. What would Wright do with this? We almost got that when Wright was attached to direct Marvel's ANT-MAN, Peyton Reed ultimately directed from a story and screenplay co-written by Wright. Two years later Wright gives us BABY DRIVER and effectively announces to the world he's not a one trick pony. Like he did for his previous films he's taken the heist film and molded it into something fresh, something new and, surprisingly, something musical.
Probably the last thing one would expect to be associated with a heist film is the term "musical." Relax, it's not a straight up musical like LA LA LAND. Director James Gunn used his soundtrack, well mix tapes, to great use in his GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films. The song choices provided effective ambience for the scenes they accompanied. Wright has put together an equally effective mix tape that not only provides the ambience but is actually integral to the story itself. Baby, the title character, listens to his iPod whenever he's on a job and his song choices are all about mood, timing and energy. Needless to say the song choices are spot on as they provide equal doses of irony, comedy and bad-assness. Wright perfectly sets up this aspect of the story during the film's pre-title and title sequence. The latter would actually feel right at home in a film musical and Wright shows he's more than capable of tackling that genre as well. More importantly it underscores the importance of music and how it impacts our lives on a daily basis. As I write this review Europe's "The Final Countdown" is playing on the radio...awesome!
Over the past decade plus, Wright has created and written many memorable and engaging characters. For BABY DRIVER he's taken many familiar archetypes and given them signature Edgar Wright makeovers and has created some of the most memorable characters in his repertoire. These characters leap off the page thanks to a cast that is very much in tune with Wright's harmonies. Ansel Elgort commands the screen in the title role of Baby. He has great chemistry with everyone in the cast, CJ Jones in particular, which really helps elevate one's belief in this guy with a hearing impairment who has driving skills that rival all the drivers in the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise combined. Lily James plays Debora, the girl who captures Baby's heart. Debora could have easily been relegated to the role of damsel in distress but Wright provides her with enough depth and character that shows she's no mere damsel. James projects just the right amount of innocence, charm and wit that one can't help but fall under her spell. Who wouldn't want to whisk this girl away from this dull life? Wright fills the supporting cast with big names and every one approaches their parts as if they were the leads in the film. Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Elza Gonzalez and Flea portray the merry band of thieves that Baby finds himself involved with. Even though the roles seem stereotypical, the parts are equally engaging and entertaining. Part of the fun of the film is learning who these people are and what makes them tick and you will find out in some unexpected, humorous and unsettling ways.
BABY DRIVER features numerous action set pieces that outdo similar moments in films primarily known for vehicular mayhem. The car chases were filmed practically with outstanding precision driving by the stunt team and were expertly captured by cinematographer Bill Pope; who re-teams with Wright and is also known for his work on Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN trilogy, the MATRIX trilogy and THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016). With the amount of action on screen you never once lose track of what's going on and you never get the sense that the scenes exist solely for the purpose of being a cool action scene to sell tickets. The action is well choreographed, not just the driving sequences, and is often of the edge of your seat variety. However, even if you lift all of the action scenes this would still be a pretty damn good heist film as is.
Like he did with the zombie genre, the buddy-cop action genre and the science fiction genre, Edgar Wright has left his mark on the heist genre. He adeptly proves he can play in multiple sandboxes with this fun and often thrilling crowd-pleaser. It's a film that features great characters, solid action scenes and a familiar yet engrossing story that unfolds with many unexpected twists and turns. Beep beep'm beep beep yeah.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal