Baby Driver had me smiling before I even knew I liked it. By the time I did know, my face hurt. That reaction says a lot about a film that I greatly enjoyed for the first two acts and flat-out loved by the third, but I’ll write more anyway …
If you’ve seen the ho-hum marketing campaign for this one, you’ll know Baby Driver tells the story of the titular character, a getaway driver who’s the best there is at what he does. He’s even got a hero’s tic, which functions at once as an endearing “thing” to latch onto as well as a clever plot device through which Wright begins to weave his cinematic magic. Baby, you see, is mixed up with all the worst kinds of low lives, but he’s got a plan to get out … right up until he falls for the pretty girl at the local diner.
You can likely guess where the rest is going—up to a point—but don’t let that dissuade you from getting there. After all, we’re often told that it isn’t about the destination. Baby Driver takes that to heart, worrying less about the getting and more about the going, and when this thing gets revved up, it truly is a beast to behold.
Slick, stylish, confident and even loud, Baby Driver is everything we’ve seen out of director Edgar Wright before and yet marks a bold new direction for a filmmaker who’s been dazzling critics and hardcore film buffs for a decade. Where comedy is the key ingredient of Wright’s previous filmography, it’s merely a spicy in the gumbo that is Baby Driver, with character, drama, romance and, yes, action making up the heart of the meal.
And my, what action it is. The driving stunts are as believable as the gunplay, which, when it breaks out, is shocking and violent. Our hero is both incredibly competent and refreshingly flawed — human. He’s the best, but that doesn’t make him infallible, and the film takes pains to show you his limits and force him to find new ways around or through them, with luck playing as large a role in his escapes as his daring and admirable moxy.
Aside from the chases, which you’ve seen before—albeit rarely with this sort of kinetic energy—Baby Driver is defined by music, just as our main character is. Everyone involved both in front of and behind the camera on this one is a slave to the beats populating Baby’s legion of iPods, with everything from coffee runs to the aforementioned chase scenes thumping along to various tunes that are just as on-the-nose as they’re meant to be.
This is a trick that oozes cool and rings true without ever coming off as pretentious or overdone. On the whole, Baby Driver seems more in line with the “real world” than any of Wright’s previous films, and like them, nothing here goes to waste. The film zips along at a brisk 90-minutes, and it’s just as full—both in terms of dialogue and visuals—as anything else Wright’s put out.
As for the cast, they are incredibly well-served by a script that paints them as archetypes before allowing the players to stretch them to and sometimes beyond their breaking points. Ansel Elgort is a revelation as the lead hero, while Lily James plays a charming love interest.
The aforementioned low lives? That’s where we find Kevin Spacey—sinister and likable as the best sort of used car salesman—Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Eliza Gonzalez. While Foxx is introduced as your typical lifetime criminal, he’s a hell of a lot smarter than he looks, which makes for some of the best turns in the middle portion of the film. As for the rest, Hamm is a welcome surprise, getting the most out of a role that could have been a throwaway at best and cheesy at worst in the wrong hands.
Along with Baby, the other characters, both criminal and innocent–though there are few enough who don’t get their hands dirty–have fast, juicy arcs that both confirm and subvert audience expectations, making it impossible to let your guard down entirely until the final credits roll.
On the whole, Baby Driver solidifies Wright as a modern master capable of much more than the witty and the clever, Elgort and James as rising stars deserving of whatever opportunities are thrown their way from here on out, and demonstrates once more that a formula is only as tired as those behind the proverbial wheel.