Year: 2017
Director(s): Edgar Wright
Writer(s): Edgar Wright
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 113 mins

Synopsis: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail. (Source)

We’ve all created a mixtape before yeah? Imagine one designed to get your heart pumping, a relentless mix of anthemic hits without a single track of filler along the way – that’s Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. In true Wright fashion, this is a film only he could’ve done, a remix of the action genre speeding by at a million miles per hour and daring us to keep up. Armed with stylish choreography and an eclectic collection of never-ending tunes, Wright has crafted a musical without words, one in which the film itself sings with feeling and every action or movement is flawlessly timed to an accompanying song. We’re used to this type of rapid-fire editing in most music videos, but Wright finds clever ways to sustain it for an entire film, never losing steam or sight of his characters along the way. Wright’s film is pure musical joy, and a cinematic experience that needs to be seen on a giant screen with the volume all the way up.

The setup is wonderfully simple. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, a prodigy behind the wheel who’s tied to a mysterious kingpin named Doc (Kevin Spacey) due to a debt. Since a childhood accident killed his parents and left Baby with severe tinnitus, he drowns out the ringing in his ears by perpetually blasting music through headphones. When the film begins, Baby has near cleared his debt and thought to have broken free from his questionable company. His freedom is short lived however, when he’s roped back in just as he’s fallen for Debora (Lily James), a local waitress who shares his love of music and spontaneity. Forced to do a few more jobs against his will, Baby does his best to navigate two different worlds, a task made more difficult by loose cannon companions Bats (Jamie Foxx), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Buddy (Jon Hamm), whose penchant for tricky heists dare to bring dangerous consequences to the lives of his loved ones.

On surface, Wright’s latest is steeped in genre tropes and archetypes, but this is the rare kind of film where the story’s execution almost overshadows what it’s saying. For most directors, such an idea may be a thinly veiled excuse to float a film solely by style, but Wright isn’t any director – he’s an auteur that understands the visual medium he thrives in and uses every aspect of it to flip convention. At its best, the film lets the music and action tell do all the talking, resembling something closer to a silent film rather than the cacophony of hollow dissonance most modern action films are known for. There’s just something totally irresistible about the way Wright marries bullets and car crashes to rock beats or classic pop lyrics to his characters’ emotions – you know what he’s pulling off isn’t easy, but he sure does make every move feel seamless and natural. Even with its modest budget and major studio backing, this is a rarity that feels as if it was made by a group of friends during summer break. The energy is infectious in each frame, with playful action contrasting a story about owning up to the consequences of our actions.

Wright’s characters are as colorful as the songs they jive to, and the cast is a great ensemble. As the titular Baby, Ansel Elgort gets to play a fun character, one who rarely speaks and reinvents the world around him through song and dance. Elgort is endearing in the role and brings an innocence to the tough story. Kevin Spacey as Doc, works. As usual, it’s tough to figure Spacey out as he walks the line between disarming and menacing. Jamie Foxx’s Bats is pure chaos, a ticking time bomb who could blow up at any moment. Lovebirds Buddy and Darling, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez respectively, are both as charming as they are dangerous. The two make a great pair who can feel like your friends one second, and sociopaths the next. If there’s one performer who gets the short shrift, it’s Lily James as Debora – she’s definitely got the chops, but her role is sadly more a plot device than anything else. Everyone gives it their all here, and add appropriate texture to the film’s madness.

Despite some narrative familiarity, Baby Driver is the full package, a wholly inventive take on the action genre that pushes through convention to forge a fresh cinematic language. From the breathless car chases, endearing story, sly humor and eclectic set of tunes that make us want to tap our feet, Wright has crafted something special from the ground up. At a time when too many are complaining about an endless sea of sequels, reboots and rehashes, Wright proves that there are unique films out there worthy of our time, if we just keep ear to the ground and listen for the music.

SG