Ansel Elgort stars as the title character, he’s been the getaway driver for criminal kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) for several years, paying off a debt job by job. After a heist with three bank robbers, he meets Debora (Lily James) at a diner who makes him see there’s more to life.
Edgar Wright’s signature style of using music in an enjoyable fashion within his films is not an easy feat to achieve. Coming up with the right song for the perfect moment can be tricky, but he’s hit the mark time and time again. With Shaun of the Dead during the zombie beating scene using Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, countless times in cult TV show Spaced, as well as his adaptation of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Baby Driver takes it up a notch by collating a soundtrack of 30 songs which the main character listens to throughout, whilst sliding his car through impossible turns and corners, consistently moving to the beat of the music. It’s a technique that not only works well by driving (pun intended) the narrative forward but also without telling you how to feel. You’re already there within every single heart-racing moment.
Baby is a genius behind the wheel which attributed to listening to music in order to drown out his tinnitus. He drives to the beat of his tracks, which creates an almost musical vibe as his car darts, weaves and almost dances through traffic. It begins with The Bellbottom’s pulse thumping tune during the opening sequence which shows that the film is about putting music and narrative together. He drives a different crew each time so Doc thinks of him as his lucky charm, so when he tries to leave, he’s met with extreme pressure and not only from Spacey’s character.
The criminals he drives include a range of outlaw bandits such as married couple Buddy (a rather disheveled and messy looking Jon Hamm) and the confidently cocky Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). There’s also Griff (Jon Bernthal) and Bats (Jamie Foxx), both of whom are clearly enjoying their bad guy roles by pulling out haughty takes on their characters, creating a hostile environment for the resident driver. The extensive grief Baby gets from their truculent attitudes is at times hard to watch, with Griff asking if he’s retarded. Doc replies, “Retarded means slow, is he slow?”. Obviously not. The relationship between Baby and Doc is one built partly on trust and partly paying off a debt job by job. He’s almost a father figure, certainly a unconventional one at least.
Away from his life of crime things changes drastically for Baby, when he meets Debora, a woman who reminds him of his mother. She catches him using his tape recorder as she walks by singing a tune and approaches him as they wax lyrical about music they each have a fondness for. The pair are quick to bond, with the immediate attraction sparking with their witty back and fourths. He’s also taking care of his deaf foster father “Pops” whilst indulging in his hobby of mixing recordings he’s secretly taken of his criminal partners.
Baby drives like no other, a fact we see a few times; he knows how to take a corner when going full throttle, he knows how to tackle oncoming traffic whilst driving in the opposite direction, he’s able to anticipate the direction the police are going. It’s entirely intuitive and an utter joy to see him practically dancing his way around town. He’s slick even when he’s not driving, a scene shows him moving and almost shaking on the streets of Atlanta to the sound of Harlem Shuffle. Then during a gun battle each shot, reload and painful yell is choreographed to Button Down Brass’s Tequila which is beautifully enjoyable.
Whilst this starts off as an all out action car chase, it settles into more if a character development, looking into Baby’s past and what lead him to his life of crime. It’s a stellar performance from Ansel who digs deep to create a likable, emotionally vulnerable character who clearly doesn’t belong in the world of ruthless thugs and heists. This is more than just a film set to a blistering soundtrack, it’s shown how to develop a story on top of the songs.
In anyone else’s hands, this could have been made into a parody of itself, poking fun at the heist and musical genres, however with Edgar Wright at the helm of his first solo writer/director feature, it’s in the safest and sharpest possible hands. His visionary style is just what this film needed to drive it forward full throttle.
4 out of 5.
Keep. It. Reel.