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Directed by Edgar Wright.
Starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx
Review by Simon Ramshaw.
There often comes a moment in a filmmaker’s career that I like to call a ‘deep breath’ moment. It’s the moment before they take the plunge into uncharted waters, where their career will either sink or swim. And when I heard that Baby Driver was a marked step away from comedy and into outright action for energetic British director Edgar Wright, I took the deepest of breaths. But Wright’s hands are some of the safest in the business, so I needn’t have worried, as the natural pace and rhythm of Wright’s visual comedy translates seamlessly into the spectacle of the kinetic action choreography and editing of Baby Driver.
Baby (yes, B-A-B-Y Baby, played by Ansel Elgort in a role that could’ve won him the Han Solo role, had Wright’s film been released sooner) is a young but skilled getaway driver in debt to crime boss Doc (a seemingly benevolent Kevin Spacey), but when Baby discover that he can love a person as much as he loves his music, he attempts to leave his life of crime behind. Of course, movies being movies, it’s not as simple as that. So far so familiar, but while the content might be well-trodden territory, Wright’s style is absolutely original and exciting.
Baby Driver doesn’t stay in one place for long, but what’s remarkable is that every individual sequence finds something new to explore. The initial getaway sequence is undeniably impressive, but is dwarfed in ambition by every subsequent set-piece. From a shootout where gunfire acts as percussion to a foot-chase that’s practically a tour of Atlanta, Wright’s visual energy is infectious. Working with two familiar editors, Wright moulds set-pieces into their own mini rollercoaster rides, cycling between comedy, brutality and peril with ease.
Although Wright’s retro influences are clear, from Walter Hill’s The Driver to any of William Friedkin’s takes of car chases, I’d argue that the film also cruises heavily on the modern trend of a soundtrack upstaging the film itself. Take Guardians of the Galaxy and its wildly popular soundtrack CD, Awesome Mix Vol. 1, a catchy playlist of tunes that successfully ushered in a new/old world of music to a younger generation. I suspect Baby Driver will do the same. But the similarities don’t end there. Our eponymous wheelman might talk as much as Ryan Gosling’s consciously quiet modern icon, but Ansel Elgort’s performance is based as much on rhythm as Chris Pratt’s new age Han Solo, Peter Quill. Combine that with issues about a deceased mother, an unhealthy attachment to portable music devices and an admirably un-self-conscious commitment to dancing in public, Baby is ultimately a character we’ve seen before.
It’s a good thing that Ansel Elgort affords him a vulnerable personality. Baby is cool on the surface but a big softie when it comes down to it, and Elgort proves to be a fine contrast to the rogue’s gallery of criminals that Wright populates his film with. Jamie Foxx leads the pack, proving a marvellously intimidating presence as the volatile Bats, while Jon Hamm shows impressive range as Buddy, a ruthlessly efficient bad-boy you would much rather be your friend than your enemy.
The only flat moments come when the central romance resorts to focusing on Lily James biting her lip over Elgort’s sly grin, but that’s a minor quibble in a film that consistently takes risks and thoroughly entertains. After the box office knockback of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the creative suffocation of Ant-Man, it gives me great pleasure to say that Edgar Wright has finally made it over the pond. And if Hollywood properly embraces him, just think of what wonders he can do with the big bucks…