There are few directors working today that excite me as much as Edgar Wright. His three comedies Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End are absolutely brilliant pieces of cinema and some of the best comedy films of the 21st century. Naturally, being a fan of his, I would be excited for absolutely everything Wright would do. I wasn’t quite as excited as I should have been for Baby Driver, for a number of reasons. However, having watched it, I still believe that Wright is a marvelous director and a true cinematic genius. However, there are still some heavy flaws that made me nostalgic for Wright’s previous work, as there were some elements in those films that were missing from Baby Driver, and while it is ultimately a great film, it just doesn’t hold up in comparison to Wright’s other work.
Baby Driver is about the titular character, nicknamed “Baby”, played by Ansel Elgort. He is a young man who moonlights as a getaway driver for crime boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey. The robberies vary in crew, but Baby is the only consistent member because he proves himself to be an extraordinary driver perfect for the needs of a heist. The reason behind his unusual talent is his penchant for music – a childhood accident resulted in him needing to constantly be playing music, and he forms a personal playlist that defines his life, emotions, and movements. However, when a heist goes wrong, he needs to make the decision to carry on the well-paying job that will very likely land him in prison, but at the expense of just having the adrenaline-fueled experience of being a getaway driver. His other alternative is to pursue the waitress Debora (Lily James), who shows considerable interest in the aloof but charismatic stranger that frequents her coffee shop. The complexities of such a decision haunt Baby, and he needs to choose where he wants his life to lead.
My main issue with this film was the titular lead. Ansel Elgort has never seemed to be a particularly great actor. He was overly-saccharine in the incredibly flawed The Fault in Our Stars and his work in the Divergent series should be left unsaid (as do the films themselves). However, I am someone who believes in giving actors another chance (just a week ago, I was praising Harry Styles for his excellent performance in Dunkirk), and to be completely honest, Elgort is great in Baby Driver. He may be somewhat artificial still, and his accent is unbelievably inconsistent throughout the film, but he does manage to be pretty convincing and brings a whole lot of charm to a character that needed someone charismatic and interesting. I just hope that Elgort is able to get such well-developed characters going forward, because I do think he has quite a bit of space to grow as an actor, but I do think he’s got a lot of talent that will hopefully be honed by great films like this in the future.
However, as usual, Wright showed his remarkable talent for casting, with Baby Driver having one of his most prestigious casts (not necessarily my personal favorite, but still a strong ensemble). Jamie Foxx isn’t a stranger to these kinds of ruthless gangsters (playing a similar role in Horrible Bosses), but Baby Driver has him play Bats, a character far better developed than the typical villain. In fact, this film is very hazy when it comes to choosing the ultimate villain, but Foxx surprisingly plays the most dreadfully evil character in the film, and his eventual demise is satisfying (and very typical of what we expect from Wright). Jon Hamm also finally gets his best post-Mad Men role as Buddy, the vengeful bank-robber who proves that you can’t trust anyone. Hamm has always shown remarkable chemistry with many actors, and Baby Driver shows him being both charismatic and utterly detestable.
Lily James is also wonderfully sweet and endearing as Debora the waitress who our titular hero falls in love with. She was consistently very charming and had amazing chemistry with Elgort, and considering that both her and Elgort are relatively young and new to the industry, Baby Driver will certainly be a good jump-start to the rest of their careers because they both showed considerable range here and were wonderful and very charming to watch. The most fascinating part of Baby Driver was Kevin Spacey – don’t for a second believe that Spacey plays a character any different from the vast majority of despicably sarcastic and sinister villains we’ve seen for him for about a decade. His character of Doc is a stereotypical crime boss, but I found him to be a lot more complex than he appeared to be on the surface. It may not be revolutionary work for Spacey, but it was notable how Doc was shown to be a far more interesting villain (if he can even be called a villain, surprisingly).
But let’s be honest here – the selling-point of Baby Driver was not the cast (even if it is composed of great performances from talented actors). There was something else that dominated this film’s promotion, and the concept that received the lion’s share of the focus of publicity – the music. Wright is one of the few filmmakers working today that are able to make great use of music, and Baby Driver could be argued to simply be his love-letter to music more than anything else. The film has an astounding soundtrack, composed of several iconic songs (and a few obscure gems) that are wonderfully well-chosen. It would not be wrong to say that Baby Driver was structured around the music, rather than the music being structured around the film. The use of music in this film was absolutely superb, and the ways in which Wright structures the film, correlating every moment and movement to the song being played, proves that he is a genius. Perhaps Baby Driver isn’t Wright’s best film, but it is one of his most innovative and unique in approach. It arguably is formed around its central gimmick, much like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but unlike that film (still a great film), Baby Driver never quite loses its way and concentrates on the story as much as the idea that formed this film.
Yet, Baby Driver still didn’t leave me with the exhilarated sense of joy and gleeful abandon that Wright’s other films left me feeling. Baby Driver is a good film, there is absolutely no way to deny that this is an entertaining, utterly fun and thrilling action film that is one of the best of its often reviled genre. Yet, I was somehow expecting so much more from Wright. There was just something missing here. It isn’t wise to conflate his subsequent movies with the iconic Cornetto Trilogy, but there was something extraordinarily special in those films that Baby Driver is tragically missing. I can’t quite put my finger exactly on what it was, but I think it was the humane and brutally frank depiction of the human condition that Wright imbued in the rest of his films. There was a heart lurking beneath all of his previous films that weren’t really that clear here – don’t get me wrong, there was an emotionally-resonant message here, just not one that was as unconventionally touching as his previous films. As much as it pains me to say this, Baby Driver is too much of a conventional action film to be truly extraordinary. It may be a very well-made and entertaining action film, but there was just not enough here to qualify it as something on the same level of Wright’s previous work. I still really enjoyed it, but I wasn’t left blown away by it like I was expecting to be.
However, having said that, there are still so many moments that bear a remarkable resemblance to what Wright does best. There are many moments where Wright’s trademarks break through, often in wonderful and surprising ways. Baby Driver is a typically lighthearted action comedy, and it retains its humor throughout, with some of the absurdity Wright is known for often appearing throughout, which genuinely surprised me, because they were so few and far-between, they could not have been overly intentional. There are moments of serious strangeness that seem out of place in a film like Baby Driver, but right at home in Wright’s oeuvre. Another great feature of Baby Driver is its intertextuality. While it may not be arguably as wonderful in its references to previous films, it still has a keen sense of inspiration behind it – most notably The Driver and other similar motor-themed action films. There are multiple references – overt and otherwise – that to pre-existing works that extend beyond music (including a particular reference to the very work that inspired Baby Driver, Wright’s music video from over a decade ago). There are a few wonderfully surprising cameos in this film that are so arbitrary and strange and placed there specifically for cinephiles and fans of obscure and random references. It is this kind of utter random playfulness that forces me to adore the work of Edgar Wright.
In terms of filmmaking, there is very little to fault in Baby Driver. It is an extraordinarily well-made film, and it manages to be exhilarating and thrilling without the need of special effects. You can always tell when passion is put into a film, and Baby Driver is certainly a passion project for Wright. The action scenes were wonderfully shot and edited excellently, and Wright composed a postmodern ballet, blending the visual with the audial, ensuring that the music and the cinematography worked in perfect synchronicity. Wright never fails to amaze me with the extent to which he will go to make his films visually stunning, and whereas Baby Driver may lack in other areas, it certainly makes up for it in the technical sphere.
I thought Baby Driver was a great film. The performances are solid and the story is unique and original, while still being a fun throwback to previous films. It may not have the spark of Wright’s previous films, but it is still a remarkable and ultimately incredibly fun film that has a lot of heart and leaves you thoroughly thrilled. It is a film worth seeing for anyone who loves movies or music. If you love both, Baby Driver is the jackpot film of the year. It is simply a wonderful experience, and definitely one of the most entertaining films you’ll see for a while.