Edgar Wright / 2017 / UK USA / 113 mins
In cinemas nationwide now.
It appears that Edgar Wright has crafted the first ever car-chase musical. The characters may not burst into song with each shift of gear, but rarely has there been such a symbiotic coalescence between music and visuals in an action film.
Ansel Elgort’s Baby is a stunningly talented getaway driver for Kevin Spacey’s blandly menacing, yet paternal crime boss Doc. Due to tinnitus sustained in the car accident that killed his parents, Baby blasts music constantly to drown out the “hum in the drum”. Nearing the end of a long-standing debt to Doc, Baby plans to drive off into the sunset with new girlfriend Deborah (Lily James), but Doc isn’t willing to let such an asset escape his clutches willingly.
Baby Driver sets off at full throttle and never lets up. Strap in and witness the sheer popcorn delirium of the opening scene with each screech of tire and rev of engine synched perfectly to Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. An amazing statement of intent and quite possibly the scene of the year so far.
Wright’s thrillingly hi-octane spin on the action movie may sacrifice some of the heart of his earlier work, and arguably doesn’t ever quite regain the heights of its incredible introduction, but this is a superlative shot in the arm to a stale and moribund genre. It’s hugely stylish pulp brilliance. Wright has also roped in some stellar talent to augment his high-speed high concept.
Elgort brings a lithe swagger and quiet romanticism as Baby. A role which could have dwindled into blank-slate posturing; a cheap rendition of Ryan Gosling’s charismatic stoicism in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Instead, his obsessive nature is channelled appealingly into a charming everyman with a dash of James Dean brooding and pinch of early-Travolta arrogance. He’s no criminal, he’s merely mastered driving to gain some symbolic control over the machine that killed his beloved mother. Similarly, his idiosyncratic habit of surreptitiously recording his more hardened hoodlum cohorts so he can remix their voices into homemade hip-hop is his only way of exerting his influence on his situation. This is simply a young man anxious to make his mark.
Lily James fares less well in a role that hints at similar trauma to Baby, yet quickly gets subsumed into standard background dressing as all hell breaks loose in the final act. Jamie Foxx is good value as the dangerously insane Bats, but it’s Jon Hamm who excels as Buddy, the former banker. Initially another iffy parental surrogate for Baby, Hamm leaves his Don Draper suaveness ever further behind with incremental derangement.
Baby Driver is Edgar Wright striving, like his protagonist, to establish an exquisite control of the quintessential American love for straight roads and a fast car. It’s slick, thrilling and, with that huge romantic streak, the prelude to perhaps the best road movie that will never be made.