One, two, three, four! Click, snap, screech, vroom! Some movies seem to have their own rhythm, but none possess a groove quite like Baby Driver. It’s a jukebox musical for the everyday audiophile, one where characters literally tap, dance and move from place to place. Paired with fast cars and smoking guns, the movie exhales style with every beat of the drum.
Wait, I skipped ahead a little bit. Let me restart this song.
Baby Driver seats us alongside Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young getaway driver with tinnitus who drowns out the ringing in his ears with music. After falling in love with a waitress named Debora (Lily James), he tries to lead an honest life. But when criminal kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) threatens him and his loved ones, Baby is forced to go on one more heist with three dangerous thugs: Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx).
Out of all the characters, Baby is definitely the most captivating. With a seemingly unlimited supply of sunglasses and iPods, Elgort gives us a lead whose main charm is his mysterious past. Spacey and Hamm also give standout performances as Doc and Buddy, and the two of them give the seedy underworld a necessary fearsome edge.
All of the performances in this movie are solid, but the star of the show is clearly director-writer Edgar Wright. His distinct visual style is in full swing, as Baby Driver is littered with match cuts and sound cues. One particular highlight follows Baby as he picks up some coffee for his team of thieves, while street art and business signs transcribe the lyrics of the song Baby is listening to.
Wright’s filmography was previously known for its irony and wit. But here, his cinematic precision is used to enhance an uncharacteristically sincere story about a fairy tale romance in a violent world. It’s a love letter to cinema, inspired by films like The Driver and The French Connection, but it’s also a demonstration of a new approach to filmmaking. Famous director Guillermo del Toro describes it best in his Twitter thread:
“The film is incredibly precise. Flawlessly executed to its smallest detail: breathtaking Russian arm shots, real-world car mount and foot chases executed with the vigour and bravado of a Gene Kelly musical. This is An American In Paris on wheels and crack smoke. It’s a movie in love with cinema—the high of cinema and motion—in love with color and light and lenses and film. But unlike Edgar’s previous films (all of which I love), this stakes new, unironic territory. This is earnest and unprotected. It wears Edgar’s heart on its sleeve. It’s a riff—a beautiful riff and in many ways sends his career in a new direction. It shows us tricks and tunes he hadn’t played before.”
Any fan of Wright’s movies will instantly recognize his visual style and sense of humour, but Baby Driver shows how the old dog has learned some new tricks. I just couldn’t stop smiling throughout the movie! It’s a visceral viewing experience, with some of the best chase sequences (whether by car or by foot) in recent memory.
And compared to the self-aware glibness of his previous films, Baby Driver is arguably the most accessible film he’s ever made.
But while the action is undeniably elegant, the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Despite being a modern-day romantic fable, the story never clicks in the way a fable should. Character motives are a big contributor to this particular problem; when things start to go south, characters begin to do questionable things without much rhyme or reason.
For example, Baby’s motive gets a little fuzzy during the second act. There were plenty of instances in which he could have cancelled the heist, but he doesn’t. Instead, his actions further complicate the plot and his intentions are never really made clear. I’m left wondering whether he actually wanted to commit the crime or not.
Moreover, some scenes in Baby Driver lack a clear purpose. The most egregious example of this is the diner scene, where Baby, Bats, Buddy and Darling drop by the diner where Debora works. The main focus should come from the tension that arises between a group of dangerous thugs and Baby’s love interest, but instead we mostly get exposition on why the four of them should carry out the heist.
Since Baby is the main driving force of the movie, the script should propel his story, not veer away from it.
But none of these problems are deal-breakers. As a movie completely conceived from its intro sequence, it’s only natural that Wright’s script lacks the deft footing of a well-structured screenplay. At the end of the road, the movie’s cinematic verve is more than enough to justify its shortcomings. It’s fast, electrifying cinema that perfectly embodies the meaning of fun!
Baby Driver is a movie that deserves to be seen in theaters, engines revving and music blasting. And if you’re like me, you just might come back for a victory lap.