BABY DRIVER – a review by JJ Heaton

Starring: Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Lily James (Cinderella), Eiza Gonzalez (From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Jamie Foxx (Collateral)

Writer/Director: Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz)

Runtime: 1 hour 53 minutes

Release Date: 28 June (US, UK)

Though massive commercial success still eludes him, Edgar Wright still remains many a cinephile’s choice for favourite working director. He has a unique and instantly recognisable style, and yet he always brings something new to the table with each film. He finds comedy in the smallest details and spectacle in the most mundane of places, and every frame of film he makes is packed with a passion for cinema. Baby Driver marks as somewhat of a departure from Wright’s usual style, but it is still undeniably a film that could have only come from his mind. Bringing his sensibilities to the classic car chase movie is a match made in heaven, making Baby Driver a summer ride you won’t want to miss.

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First things first, it should be made clear that Baby Driver isn’t a comedy in the traditional Wright sense. It’s still packed with humour and funnier than most straight-up comedies this year, but the movie balances that with a lot of other genres. It’s an action movie, a crime thriller and a romance story all in one, blended seamlessly together to craft a movie made from familiar parts but assembled in a unique way. It borrows a lot of elements and iconography from car chase classics like The French Connection, Bullit and The Blues Brothers, but the story itself feels wholly unique. Every time you think it’s going to take the trodden path, it finds a new way to follow it if not outright avoid it. However, as well as it remixes the classics, it doesn’t quite add something inherently new to the genre or Edgar Wright’s filmography; they just compliment their respective trappings. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but if you’ve grown tired of Quentin Tarantino’s shtick then you might find this more troublesome. Also, the ending feels a little abrupt. The action peaks a little too early and then it feels like the film is building up to something bigger, but it ultimately goes in a totally different direction. It feels intentional as another of Wright’s genre subversions, but original or not it still feels like the audience is being undercut.

Among Wright’s many other talents, he knows how to assemble a good cast and get remarkable performances out of unlikely actors. Similarly to Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Ansel Elgort’s pretty boy YA image is successfully utilised in a unique way as the titular Baby, moulding him into a millennial combination of Ryan O’Neal and James Dean. Elgort doesn’t say much but he gets across a lot through physicality, which works especially well in all of the physical comedy bits sprinkled into the action sequences; he’s essentially Ryan Gosling from Drive, but cute instead of disturbing. A lot of the comedy is mined from Baby’s interactions with the varyingly insane cast of criminals he has to work with, and all of them are entertaining in their own wat. Kevin Spacey makes for the perfect crime ring boss as Doc, being mysterious and conniving but with a subtle soft spot, which makes every interaction he has with Baby packed with uncertainty. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez make for a delightfully deranged couple as Buddy & Darling, and Jamie Foxx constantly steals the show as the appropriately nicknamed Bats. The only cast member close to being weak is Lily James as Debora. She makes for a sweet love interest and does share some good chemistry with Elgort, but it takes her a little too long to get caught up in the action; until the third act, she could just be a Sexy Lamp and it wouldn’t make much difference.

Where Wright’s filmmaking chops really come into play is in all the technical execution and, whilst Baby Driver is easily the most grounded in reality of all of his movies, his style is still clearly all over it. The car chases in this film are spectacular, executed in a way unseen since the 1970s heyday of the genre. The practical stuntwork all around is superb, and that goes for both vehicle stunts and on-foot. One of the best action sequences in the film is an on-foot chase between Baby and the police, which is accomplished with a lot of long, sweeping takes. Bill Pope’s cinematography in general is fantastic across the board and, combined with some of the slickest editing in a Wright movie ever, makes for a flawless visual experience. Equally as beautiful is the film’s soundtrack, which is an eclectic mix of genres and eras that creates a perfect soundscape for the movie that would make even Star-Lord blush. Every scene is practically timed to the music down to the tiniest movements, which only enhances the energy of every moment; much like on Scott Pilgrim, Wright uses the techniques of musicals to great effect without ever fully turning the film into a musical itself. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to any of these songs ever again without linking them to their respective scenes in this movie.

Baby Driver is maybe not Edgar Wright’s finest work, but it does show he has more up his sleeve than comedies about manchildren learning to grow up through the tropes of a genre picture. The balancing of tone and genre here is so deftly handled that it feels unequivocally Wright whilst still feeling apart from his previous work, and no amount of ridiculous Fast & Furious car stunts could ever match the tangible, foot-tapping energy the chases here pull off. However, I do worry that eventually Wright is going to run out of tricks. There’s only so many times you can pull the “here’s my quirky take on this genre that mixes elements of all my favourite movies” bit, but I do have a sincere belief that he will find something that can mix up his own formula instead of constantly falling back on using his to mix up others’ work.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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