Once in a while a film comes along that causes an awakening. Not necessarily in the sense of the Hollywood industry per se, but it comes along at the right time for the audience to stand up and cheer and be reminded why we adore the art of cinema so. Baby Driver, from writer-director Edgar Wright, is that movie.
Ansel Elgort is Baby, in a role he was born to play. He’s always been connected to an iPod, or at least a booming speaker, since he was a child. Therefore, there is a soundtrack constantly playing in some capacity throughout the film. That is the first stroke of genius from Wright. How he takes us inside the head of Baby, through his musical selections, is revolutionary. As if that was not enough, the filmmaker also does so in a manner where sound, sound effects and the story itself are acutely attuned to the drumbeat that permeates the music. This is a movie set to a metronome.
The maestro at the podium of this revolutionary tale has had this story in his head for decades. As such, it is hard to think of a movie that is more precise and planned out in perfection in recent memory. Everything is deliberate, yet at the same time the film is uncanny in how organic it feels as well.
Traditionally, a movie is a story told in three acts. Baby Driver is a film which chronicles three heists, each much different from the last. There are only two things that are congruent through them. The first is the getaway driver of the title and the second is the brains behind the operation, the ominous Doc (Kevin Spacey). The crew changes (and includes Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Jon Bernthal and Flea!) with each job. Yet each time the goal is the same — stage a successful armed robbery and smart getaway courtesy of our “Mozart in a Go-Kart.”
What’s fascinating about the exposition in the film is how it is achieved. Wright did his research and as such, as fantastical as Baby Driver is, it still feels rooted in a reality that exists somewhere. Crooks don’t talk about themselves. We get all we need to know about our characters from others. That includes the title character, whose past seems to be mythologized by those around him. Everything about Baby is true; he’s the real deal.
That becomes especially clear when he meets Debora (Lily James, Cinderella).
She’s a waitress at a diner Baby frequents and immediately sparks fly. For the first time, he can see a life outside of the four walls he feels trapped inside. Debora shares his love of music, so the soundtrack of our film continues. In her, Baby also makes a stunning realization. He’s not simply someone who is outside of this circle of crime he drives in and out of — Baby is a part of it. He’s an accessory and the sooner he can get away from this life and into the arms of Debora, the better.
When the two worlds collide, well then… that’s a whole nother level of titanic tension in Wright’s masterpiece.
Sure, Elgort is firmly in the driver’s seat in terms of him being the lead. Heck, he’s the title character. Beyond him, the entire cast is a firmly in tune backing band that knows when to grab a solo and also when to simply provide the back beat. They each have their moments in the spotlight and every actor and actress involved in Baby’s story is so rich, they could completely have their own film. That’s a sign of a screenwriter working at a level that is so precise. You would be hard-pressed to find a movie world so full, yet still efficiently streamlined, in a screenplay that still packs a punch of emotion and jarring thrills, with the just-right melodies that produce heart string-pulling responses from those who experience it.
Elgort is a movie star. Wright’s story, however brilliant, needed an actor who could command in the role and demand the audience’s attention and adoration. He does that in spades. Hamm is electric in a role unlike any you’ve ever seen him in prior. We love his character’s connection to his wife, Darling (González), and the chemistry those two achieve in the small window that they’re given to elicit it. The choices Hamm makes as an actor when things get challenging have to be a career highlight for the former Mad Men star.
Then, there’s Spacey and Foxx. They are like bookends of bad ass, each in a very different way. Each also is uncanny in his ability to be the spokesperson for the Baby Driver story. Foxx, in particular, has his Bats serve as a barometer of people reading in a way that is almost psychic. In the hands of the actor, it comes off as never bullying. It is more a spade calling a spade a spade. He may be the spark that sends this crime opus into explosive territory, but Bats is the only one who cuts straight through to the truth… time and time again.
With Baby Driver, Wright has crafted a rock opera that hits all the high notes. You have your unwilling protagonist who rises to accept his fate and everything that it means. See, Baby and Debora are always wearing black and white. Those are subtle clues by Wright that these two have yet to be fully defined. Their story is literally being written. Everyone else has their firm colors — most notably Foxx’s Bats. He is always in red and that red flag could not be more loud when it comes marching into the movie. With the accompanying soundtrack and its matching of beats, both musical and cinematic, the filmmaker has orchestrated a movie achievement of the highest order that cinephiles and casual fans of the medium will both want to revisit repeatedly.