Jacob Richardson | 04/07/2017
Fuck Ant-Man - Edgar Wright is back, with this frenetic, hypnotic and outstandingly original work that will have you tapping your steering wheel on the drive home.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a tinnitus afflicted getaway driver for Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) crew of criminals. He’s a quiet, brooding type amongst a group of thugs, bank robbers, murderers and braggarts that includes Jamie Foxx as the insane Bats, Jon Hamm as ex-Wall Street guy turned criminal with an undercut Buddy, his gum chewing, machine-gun wielding wife Darling, and the irritable Griff (Jon Bernthal). Perennially clad in dark sunglasses and a blue bomber jacket, and perpetually found with two white iPod earbuds in his ears, Baby drives these underworld personalities from heist to heist with a thumping soundtrack scoring his every skid and turn, as he works to pay off his debt to Doc. Approaching his last job, and with the words of the elderly gentleman he lives with ringing in his ears, begging him to get an honest job, Baby is shocked when the girl of his dreams, Debora (Lily James), comes striding into his life, singing ‘Baby’ under her breath. Alas, Doc won’t let him go that easy; after all, Baby is his good luck charm, and even if he’s “even”, he’s not done.
It’s rare to see something so original hit the big screen. Following his firing from Marvel’s Ant-Man, Edgar Wright turned his hand to the first movie he has both written and directed (usually, he only fills the latter chair). He paints an incredible image, blending action and musicality in a way not seen before. Music forms the foundation of this movie in a more intimate way than seen before, and Wright weaves it not only into Baby’s backstory (he makes mixtapes of his criminal counterparts best phrases), but also into the very action itself. Whether it’s Baby stopping a heist so that he can rewind his song to the perfect point, the incredible opening sequence as Baby works the steering wheel like a stage, or the interweaving of gunshots and the famous Tequila track in one explosive set-piece, Wright uses music to not only to inform character sensibilities but to bring a kinetic energy to his set pieces that hasn’t been rivalled in years.
Action drives the piece, and unsurprisingly it is spectacular. Baby flings cars around like they’re weapons, and the driving set pieces are coupled with incredible and explosive gunfights. But Wright always anchors the action in character development, and the best scenes are when he restrains himself, letting these amazing performers build the tension with the threat of violence rather than the use of it. Jamie Foxx in particular brings a menace that permeates every scene he is in. His Bats is an insane, psychopath, who does “drugs to support a robbery habit”. Just as prone to break into maniacal laughter as he is to shoot an innocent waitress who looked at him funny, he dominates the screen when he’s involved. Hamm also gives a superb performance; a kindly comrade early on who descends into a chillingly driven madness in the final act. Spacey proves once again that he’s one of the best in the business, managing to be a menacing and paternal figure all at once to young Baby.
Which brings us to the star of the piece. In the wrong hands, Baby could have been a disaster, but Ansel Elgort layers his performance to create a tangible, believable personality that you root for instantly. Undoubtedly helped by Wright’s superb script, Elgort delivers in a way that will have you picking up on every little thing running through his head; his hurried and almost too eager delivery of lines to Bats conveying his nervousness, his initially hesitant, probingly suggestive dialogue to Debora that gains force and delivery as his interaction goes on conveying his burgeoning confidence with the woman of his dreams. He brings a sorrowful warmth to his performance that ruminates in the death of his Mother, and his fast footwork and Grease-reminiscent jacket pulling as he grabs coffees in one superb long take makes you realise that this kid has music in his very bones.
If Wright underplays Debora as a character, or hews too closely with other characters to defined personas, he can be forgiven; Baby Driver is, as the title would suggest, Baby’s story, and Wright gives him every bit of attention. It’s a rip-roaring, musically infused and absolutely, mind-bogglingly original film that will reinvigorate your belief in cinema.
The best movie of the year so far, if not of the decade. Utterly original, incredibly immersive and stunningly inventive, Baby Driver is an inspiring work of art that sings to the rooftops with one communal thought; that Edgar Wright is the best director of his generation.