By Nathan Evans
I’m not sure I can write a legitimate review of director Edgar Wright’s latest effort, ‘Baby Driver’. Much like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ from a couple of years ago, the film’s world is so dense, it’s characters are so rich, and it moves at such a break neck pace I’m not sure I absorbed everything I saw. That’s both a great thing for the film and a frustrating one. On the one hand the film more than lends itself to multiple viewings; on the other hand, the film requires multiple viewings; a hurdle for a cash strapped, short on time father of two who writes film reviews in his spare time.
‘Baby Driver’ stars the new-to-me Ansel Elgort as the title character, Baby; a young, reluctant wheelman for a clinical, Atlanta based crime lord portrayed by Kevin Spacey. Due to a childhood car accident that claimed the life of his parents, Baby suffers from a condition called tinnitus: a constant buzzing in his eardrums. In order to cope, Baby treats his condition by drowning out the noise by constantly listening to music across an array of outdated I-Pods while observing the world in the same way a deaf person might.
On the cusp of fulfilling a debt owed to Spacey’s Doc, Baby finds himself increasingly disturbed by the violence perpetrated by the cohorts he’s forced to work with; a killer couple portrayed by ‘Mad Men’s’ Jon Hamm and Spanish actress Eiza Gonzalez, a hood with a nasal problem portrayed by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea (as a lifelong Peppers fan it’s always great when he turns up in movies), and, most troubling of all, a seemingly insane thug by the name of Bats, terrifyingly realized by Jamie Foxx. When Baby meets, and falls in love with, a kindly diner waitress named Debora (‘Downtown Abbey’s’ Lily James), he realizes he needs to escape the criminal underworld of which he is a part; a difficult task when he comes to find Doc doesn’t want to give him up that easily.
From the synopsis alone ‘Baby Driver’ sounds like every other race and chase gangster flick out there, but what sets it apart is its execution. If you’re familiar with Edgar Wright’s excellent earlier films like ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’, than you’re familiar with Wright’s ‘Looney Tunes’ meets ‘Evil Dead’ manic aesthetic. While he keeps his usual whip pans to a minimum this time around, every other facet of his signature style comes into play; including jarring bouts of bloody violence that’d feel at home in a horror film.
What you may not be familiar with is what Wright does with the film’s sound mix. In a wholly original move, Wright creates a sort of 3D aural experience for filmgoers. We as audience members experience Baby’s tinnitus in the same way he does. When his headphones are in, we hear his music; as soon as they’re out we’re subjected to the same, annoying buzzing he has to deal with everyday. As a result the film’s soundtrack is extensive and almost exclusively drives the film from beginning to end. Scene transitions, dialogue, car chases, and foley work are all timed to the music Baby listens to.
As far as I’m aware, the end result is the world’s first car chase musical, complete with both gunfights and some light dance choreography that’s credited at the beginning of the film. It’s a bold, original idea that I don’t think could’ve been pulled off by any other director. Not even by the auteurs that’ve heavily influenced Wright’s work; people like Sam Raimi, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen brothers (names that I feel Wright can now comfortably sit next to).
I throw praise on the casts of the various films I see so often that I fear it’s becoming redundant, but I have to say that the cast at work in this film is truly insane. Kevin Spacey’s performance as Doc alone would’ve been enough to put the film over the top, but he’s joined by the just ridiculously handsome Jon Hamm, and fellow Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. Foxx in particular stands out. His character Bats made me legitimately uneasy throughout the film. On his own Wright is quite adept at building tension (something he does consistently throughout this film), but when you add Foxx’s brutal performance to the mix you end up with a truly seat squirming experience.
With a supporting cast as accomplished as this one, I think I was justified in my initial skepticism of the film’s fresh faced lead Ansel Elgort, but I’m happy to report that that skepticism was ultimately unfounded. Elgort easily holds his own against these Hollywood titans with the natural confidence of someone sure to become an A-list celebrity. He handles the film’s choreography with grace and skill both behind the wheel (with major assistance from a host of skilled, under-appreciated stunt men of course) and out of the car. Much like Ryan Gosling’s Driver from ‘Drive’, I’m sure Elgort’s character’s iconic style will become a Halloween costume staple soon enough.
Actress Lily James, Elgort’s love interest, is equally engaging, but unfortunately is underutilized. While there’s certainly a charm in the way their romantic relationship almost instantly develops, the film could ultimately do a bit more to make us believe it. We get a bit of dialogue that addresses James’ character’s past, but aside from that we never get much of an idea of who she is other than an object of desire for Baby.
While James is the only cast member that actually should’ve gotten more to do, she isn’t the only one given short shrift. The aforementioned Flea and The Punisher himself, ‘Daredevil’s’ Jon Bernthal, both make appearances, but their screen time is limited to extended cameos. This really isn’t a problem with the film (in Bernthal’s case it’s a funny gag), but as a fan of both performers I would’ve liked to see more of them.
I previously stated that I wasn’t sure I could give ‘Baby Driver’ a legitimate review. One of the reasons for that is that the only other negative I can raise against this film may not be a negative at all. There were points near the end of the movie where I wasn’t sure of certain character’s motivations. I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil the film, but I found myself questioning why certain characters were doing what they were doing. Seeing as how Edgar Wright has officially proven himself to be a creative genius with this film, I’m more than willing to place the blame on my end, not on his. Like I said, I need to see this movie again to be sure.
And you need to see this movie for the first time.
If you’re already a fan of Wright’s you’ll discover a whole new appreciation for the auteur’s talents with ‘Baby Driver’. If you’ve never seen an Edgar Wright film, ‘Baby Driver’ is the perfect place to start. It’s an insane ballet of destruction, violence and comedy that pushes the boundaries of gangster flicks, and has the potential to establish a whole new genre of its own with it’s unique editing style molded by its killer soundtrack. If at all possible, please see it at a drive-in.
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5
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