Baby Driver (2017)
Dir: Edgar Wright
Editors note: This review was initially written before the news broke of Kevin Spacey’s inappropriate behavior. At the time I held back the release for a couple of weeks but wanted to still publish it, as while I don’t wish to add to the ongoing media coverage about the alleged actions of one member of the ensemble cast, I enjoyed the film itself very much and wanted to review it.
Anyone of the perpetual headphone-wearing generation will have experienced those fantastic moments where the world seems to choreograph itself to the song that’s playing in your ears. Edgar Wright takes that idea, shifts it u.p a few gears and works his skills and style to make it into a thrilling driving-laden heist movie!
Uber-skilled getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, ‘Divergent’) is nearing the end of working to pay off his debt to criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey, ‘House of Cards’), as maverick bank robbers and a blossoming romance with waitress Debora (Lily James, ‘Cinderella‘) complicate his exit from criminality.
Edgar Wright first used part of this idea in a music video for the band Mint Royale, which is very briefly seen in the film and worth watching in full on YouTube as you can see how it forms the solid basis for this feature and is very similar to the opening scene, something Wright initially worried about, fearing he’d wasted the potential for a feature. He needn’t have been so concerned, he’s done what so few succeed at, making a well-crafted feature film that takes the original short-form idea and uses it creatively without stretching it too far.
The film’s use of music takes a page out of the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ playbook, with a close interplay between the songs and accompanying visuals and narrative. Song choices are eclectic throughout, which really works, all except the end credits are diegetic, with a clear reason that helps to explain it that’s tied into some emotive history that forms a basis for some of the narrative and characters. It’s action so well that I never found it tedious, strained or stretched. Many scenes are shot and edited to the music so that they are almost choreographed, given a soundtracked pace.
In contrast, I did feel that some scenes containing more dialogue feet a little unwieldy, specifically one or two developing the key romance. Possibly as they are sandwiched between these perfectly choreographed and intricately musically coordinated scenes, you then come up against conversations aren’t paced to music, so then feel a little awkward comparatively. There are a couple of moments with the romance side of the story that didn’t work as effectively for me, just brief scenes that changed the tone a little too much for my liking and sequences that felt a bit jarring in comparison to the fresh and slick bulk of the film. Despite what the trailers and clips might focus on, it’s not all action from start to end. There are quieter more intimate moments, mostly these are chances to warm to Baby and Deb and their budding romance, scenes that I found worked better for me the second time I saw the film.
The editing is beyond slick. Apparently, for many scenes the music was played during filming, this form of choreography augmented by the editing helps to keep us immersed in Baby’s way of seeing and doing things, not rigidly slave to the music but more naturally and believably in harmony with it. This is powerfully effective in the balletic chases that feature some stunning stunt driving. I found this movie and the action in it far more enjoyable than any ‘Fast and the Furious’ film to date. It’s also worth noting that CGI was kept to an absolute minimum, the stunt driving depicted is physically possible, achieved through skill and physical techniques which makes it so much more engrossing and shows up other films that take the digital way out.
Understandably there are many turns in the story, things get complicated and escalate quickly to a breakneck pace by the last third, at which point things culminate. Many have said this is where the film comes apart for them, and while I understand what they mean, I’ve taken a different view of it. I won’t spoil anything, but, the narrative doesn’t go the way you would expect it to. All the way through you’re watching a film about a skilled driver and wanting to leave crime behind to start a new life with his girlfriend. Elements of this story have been seen countless times in movies to the point that we are certain we can guess how it will go. For some, they may even be looking forward to those presumed developments which is why they are disappointed by the way the last third of the film is resolved differently to how elements of the film might suggest. Characters turn corners at times without warning, difficult decisions are made, the resolution is not typical for a film that seems to be within a familiar genre, yet it is very satisfying and I like how it essentially fooled even me, there are a few things I thought were being foreshadowed that I was entirely wrong on.
The roster of characters is kept to just a handful, with all casting choices being excellent. As there aren’t too many characters to worry about, we get to understand all the characters sufficiently, there’s nobody wasted. When someone only appears briefly, even that serves a purpose in the story and is explained by mastermind Doc’s rules to avoid getting caught. To note specifically I liked seeing Jon Hamm in his role, it seems like he thoroughly enjoyed the chance to play an interesting character like this. Also, Ansel Elgort is superb in the central role and while I’ve been underwhelmed by him in the past from things such as the ‘Divergent’ series, I warmed to him rapidly in this and felt he steps up to the challenge of leading the film perfectly.
Frustratingly, I do feel like it gives up Baby’s backstory and history with Doc both a little too soon and far too easily. I wouldn’t have minded some of the details being kept back longer. Though it’s no huge reveal or dark mystery, so there’s not any real reason to withhold the details, for a while it does seem like an explanation is deliberately held back as if there’s something shocking to discover, only then to be divulged very easily halfway through. Sometimes it’s better to leave some things unsaid or at least pieced together by attentive viewers, but here it’s neatly explained with nothing much left to be pondered on and that feels a little anti-climactic after being slightly goaded into assuming it was going to be dramatic or mysterious. That being said, I do think there’s some possibility of certain actions and little moments in the film being indicative of deeper meaning, something I may muse more on in the future once I’ve seen the film a few more times and it has passed the fair grace period for spoilers.
The studio has apparently asked Edgar Wright to consider a sequel. I’m very wary of that, as sequels for films that don’t naturally lend themselves to one rarely result in anything good. Though I would like to see more of this, I don’t know if it needs a sequel, considerable re-watching may be enough to quell that desire, or an extended Director’s cut would be fantastic if there were scenes that were trimmed out for length, though I doubt there were, it feels complete.
I pre-ordered the Blu-Ray steelbook immediately on announcement and have seen it just twice so far, once in the cinema (where it was incredibly immersive) and once at home where it worked equally effectively (especially as the sound levels were more comfortable unlike the cinema that had it up far too loud). I really look forward to watching this film over and over again, maybe in the company of some who haven’t seen it yet, because I’m certain there’s lots more to enjoy that I still missed even on the second time and I find that Edgar Wright’s films do lend themselves to repeat viewing incredibly well. Oscar nominations will hopefully put this back on people’s radars as I personally would count it as my favourite film of 2017 and the best of all the nominees I’ve seen so far.
‘Baby Driver’ had a quite muted release on VOD and Blu-Ray. The Oscar-nominated audio is something, in particular, to note if you have a sound system capable of enjoying it to the full, up for Academy Awards in Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Editing, (with similar nominations at this weekend’s BAFTAs too) all of which are superb. It’s a skillful action film with more than just impressive driving, almost undoubtedly an instant cult classic and an energetic and enjoyable ride that’s well worth taking.