Review: Baby Driver

reviews one of the year’s most-hyped films, finding a problem with its style rather than substance

Image: Sony Pictures

7/10

Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James
Length: 1hr 53m
Rating: 15

Baby Driver is a fucking good film – let’s get that clear straight off the bat. Edgar Wright is a filmmaker who loves to play in the genre sandbox, and Baby Driver is no different, here tackling not only the heist and car chase genres, but also, surprisingly, the musical. It comes four years after his last (and marginally underwhelming) effort The World’s End, and, coupled with disappointingly becoming unattached to Ant-Man, the world is ready for another Wright whirlwind.

The story follows talented young getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort), who, after a foolish childhood mistake, is indebted to criminal kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey), seemingly unable to escape a life of crime. When Baby falls in love with diner waitress Debora (Lily James), they plan to (rather poetically) ‘head west and never stop’, until Doc pulls him back in for another job alongside Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González), and the deranged Bats (Jamie Foxx). As the heist begins to implode, Baby has to fight to make sure both he and Debora make it out alive.

Baby drives to the beat of the music he blasts from various iPods to drown out the ‘hum in the drum’ tinnitus he was left with as a scar from the car accident that killed both his parents. And while it may not be a musical in the “conventional” sense, it’s here that Wright begins to show that he has more than the run-of-the-mill action film up his sleeve, with every set piece perfectly choreographed to a carefully selected soundtrack. It’s a clear evolution of his style that can be traced back to the zombie attack co-ordinated to Queen in Shaun of the Dead, doing what good storytellers do best and grounding the stylistics in the narrative. Baby just can’t drive without the right track, to the point where he has to restart a song before setting off when a getaway is slightly delayed, and spends precious time searching for a good track when stealing a car in a police chase.

In fact, music is Baby’s whole world; he hardly even speaks, and has sparing dialogue. It’s what causes him to fall for Debora, contributing to and combined with her reminding him of his late mother. The opening credits occur in an immensely well crafted oner, following Baby dancing through the street as he goes on a coffee run (which impressively Wright shot on the first day of principal photography no less). Baby creates remixes of conversations he records on cassette tapes, in a clever in-reference to Wright’s own trait of remixing genre.

Wright populates the picture with his usual style of quick cuts, which works extremely well now he is working with car chases, although it is worth noting this style of editing is also standard in car chases, while the opening scene also evokes his usual comedic style. However, the level of comedy quickly dissipates into naught, as it becomes apparent this is Wright’s first predominantly “serious” film. The love story sub-plot is surprisingly straightforward for Wright, with no comedic quips (although Lily James’ Debora could have done with fleshing out as a rounded character rather than principally acting as an object of desire), and the stakes going into the final heist are pretty damn high. Like all of Wright’s filmography, Baby Driver is, at heart, a coming of age story, in this case that of the eponymous Baby, whose arc, in simplest terms, shows him learning to stand up for himself and those he cares about, rejecting the dictations of others.

However, like The World’s End, Baby Driver does feel just a tad underwhelming, and while the former’s problem was narrative based, the problem with his current film is Wright forgetting the style that made him an auteur in the first place. Maybe it’s because I’m just obsessed and wrote my entire A2 Film Studies coursework on Wright, but as I left the cinema I still has the distinct pangs of disappointment. Where were the iconic whip pans and crash zooms? Where was the linkage of scenes and movement through a string of close ups rather than formulaic panning and tracking shots? Where were the graphic matches? This was the style I has come to see; yet it was not entirely displayed. And no, while there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with branching out and trying new styles, if Wright strays too far from the aesthetic voice that branded him an auteur in the first place, does that still him an auteur make?

So, just to reiterate: Baby Driver is still a fucking good film. But while it’s great to branch out and try something new, if you’re a film buff expecting to witness some classic Wright stylistics, you may be left wanting more.

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