Driving a high-octane vehicle can be exhilarating. The simple participatory act of watching a visionary director’s feature can be equally electrifying. Leave it to auteur Edgar Wright to connect the two in a thrill ride for the eyes and ears, BABY DRIVER. This isn’t your daddy’s THE DRIVER, and it’s certainly not your DRIVE either. Wright has tapped a fuel-injected line into cinematic innovation. Homages and references abound, but this is no assembly-line movie – he’s taken the pieces and handcrafted something wholly original.
Baby (Ansel “he’s so hot right now” Elgort) is a getaway driver for an underground crew of criminals led by wealthy benefactor Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby’s the best around too, getting a gang of thieves out of any sticky situation. His only fault is that he suffers from tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, and is forced to listen to music to drown it out. His time on the circuit, though, is coming to an end – and just in time, as a romance is blooming with waitress Debora (Lily James). However, on what’s to be his final heist with Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and unhinged Bats (Jamie Foxx), things go extremely pear-shaped, challenging him with more than a few life or death situations.
What’s so great is how Wright conducts his orchestra of collaborators – from the ingenious color-coated costume design by Courtney Hoffman, to the eye-popping cinematography by Bill Pope, to the resplendent production design by stalwart Marcus Rowland, to the precisely timed, electric cuts by editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. I’m sure even the craft services people brought their A-game. There’s a staggering sense of passion that leaps off the screen. The concrete jungle of Atlanta provides its own atmosphere as well, allowing the crew’s work to really pop against the backgrounds. Every inch of the frame is utilized to tell the story.
You’d think the actors would be the ones taking center stage – but you’d be wrong. Wright has more than just shrewd casting choices up his sleeve. While the ensemble’s work is absolutely vital to the film, it’s just the icing on the cake. Having the strong foundation of story and visuals infuses their performances with an assured gravitas. They know their playground is built by the best. Hamm’s work is unparalleled, balancing his good looks and intensity on a razor-sharp edge. Foxx strikes a tingling nerve. You can feel his great-white-shark-like instincts in your soul, constantly ready to pounce on Baby’s seal-smooth temperament. Spacey’s droll, rapid-fire wit is perfect. Gonzalez makes for the perfect modern dame; she’s strong, nimble, capable and a fiery badass. James’ character isn’t the stereotypical damsel-in-distress either. She oozes genuine warmth and intelligence. Her chemistry with Elgort, who does career-defining, tour-de-horsepower stuff here, sizzles. He’s tasked with a lot, shouldering much of his character’s unspoken narrative-drive, keeping it at the forefront of his multitude of physical stunts (musical and vehicular).
In synch with the meaty material and stunning stunt work, the music and sound design make this film’s engine rev. It’s almost like a feature-length music video. The incredible soundtrack (which is a must purchase) and stunts intertwine often. Nothing tops the first chase set to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms.” Well, maybe the “Harlem Shuffle” tracking shot, where song lyrics appear in the scenery, showing us the world through the hero’s lens – a world that’s bubbly, exuberant and colorful. It’s also where Ryan Heffington’s choreography really shines. Action spawned by the character-driven dramatics is consistently at the forefront of every chase. The roaring engines echo the character’s emotional drives. We see character traits shine through during pivotal moments, like during the second chase in the Avalanche, or the third job. Baby’s struggle to deal with his intensifying predicament is reflected in these pursuits too – like when his frazzled mind is soothed by the cool of “Radar Love,” or when the bonkers climax rages to the stomping “Brighton Rock.” Even though the epilogue feels a tad unnecessary, if it was missing, the film would’ve felt naked.
Add all of this up and you’ve got a compelling heist picture that’s unafraid to mix heightened fantasy into a world with real consequences – a type of feature rarely seen these days. This is more than an empty FAST AND FURIOUS caper. It’s supercharged storytelling at its best.
BABY DRIVER is now playing.