Every generation of every artistic medium has its visionaries: those who think outside the box to produce art that no-one else ever can. Opening a review of an Edgar Wright film like this really won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen one his other works: his unique, idiosyncratic, fun-loving flair has already earned him recognition as a director of unparalleled creativity. But in Baby Driver, his latest film and a significant step away from the norm, he’s off the leash and doing something very different – and oh baby, does it ever work.
Unlike the genre-bending comedy of the much-beloved Cornetto Trilogy (2004-2013) or the trippy, nostalgic cult favourite that was Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010), Baby Driver is a perfectly straight-up heist film. Fans of Drive (2011) will recognise the plot from a mile away: a prodigal getaway driver – Baby – reluctantly runs jobs for a gang of career criminals, until romance and love complicate his life and his world spins out of control. Nothing new in the basic premise, but from the first seconds of the film you can immediately see that Wright is doing something different.
Baby Driver uses music like a fish uses water: it moves in it, breathes in it, lives in it.
Far from the stoic, effortlessly cool mute the promo material (and Ryan Gosling’s own driver) would have you assume he is, Baby is seen in the very first scene lip-syncing with his omnipresent soundtrack, playing air drums on his dashboard while the black-clad robbers clean out the bank across the street. This is our first taste of something crucial to Baby Driver: character. Baby himself drips with it, as Ansel Elgort exudes everything from fearful tension to ecstatic love with silent expressiveness.
And he’s not the only one. Kevin Spacey’s ‘Doc’, a flat-voiced heist mastermind partial to rhythm and rhyme in his speeches, is as intriguing as he is intimidating, and Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez’s hedonistic criminal lovers play off each other with riveting psychotic chemistry. Special mention goes to Jamie Foxx as ‘Bats’, who plays his role with the precise balance of erratic madness and deadpan quipping that makes him exactly as terrifying as he is hilarious. And despite their limited interactions, Ansel Elgort and Lily James have wonderful electricity between them, turning their whirlwind romance into a love you really root for.
It would be a crime for me to go any further without mentioning the real star of the show, though. It’s not that Baby Driver has a great soundtrack, which it absolutely does. Baby Driver uses music like a fish uses water: it moves in it, breathes in it, lives in it. From shoot-outs with gunshots choreographed to music beats, to unforgettable car chases in perfect harmony, and every single scene in between, this film uses its soundtrack like absolutely no other film ever has. When you see the ‘Tequila’ scene, you’ll know what I mean, and you’ll realise just how much a film’s soundtrack can actually do.
As per Edgar Wright’s style, the cinematography is always stunning, with gorgeous colour palettes dripping from every scene, with glossy cars and glossy lights in the reflection of Baby’s ubiquitous sunglasses. Moody fluorescent lights are contrasted with the bright Atlanta sun, and it’s simply a film you don’t get tired of looking at, with every scene bursting with colour and energy and movement. Nothing stands still in Baby Driver: it’s a fast, loud film and you’re along for the ride, loving every second of it. Without spoiling anything, the premise might be familiar but the plot is far from dull, and the film’s climax had the entire cinema on the edge of its seat; one stunt in particular actually managed to knock the air out of me when I hadn’t even realised I was holding my breath.
Edgar Wright has taken his first step into a genre he’s never touched and done it better than anyone else ever did. See this film. See it twice.
To put a fine point on it, Baby Driver is not a film you ‘must see’; it’s a film you must see and tell everyone you know to see. Spread the word on this masterpiece. It’s the crowning jewel in the work of a filmmaker who doesn’t know how to fail; it’s an enthusiastic and loving move into the territory he’s always wanted to settle, and a god-damn bold one at that. Edgar Wright has taken his first step into a genre he’s never touched and done it better than anyone else ever did. See this film. See it twice. Watch it again and again. It’s a car-chase musical, a tense crime noir, a bleeding heart romance and a damn good action film, and not one of those things gets in the way of any other. Individually, they make for beautiful pieces of a beautiful picture. Together, they make an instant classic that will be watched, studied, and loved for years to come.