"the moment you catch feelings is the moment you catch a bullet"
Often when a film that clearly draws inspiration from another filmmaker’s work, perhaps even crossing into the territory of mimicry, it is meant with mockery and disdain. Yet, watching director Edgar Wright’s new film, Baby Driver, I could not help but be wholly transfixed by a stylistic narrative that loudly channels the likes of Reservoir Dogs & True Romance- both Quentin Tarantino vehicles. The former, of course, being the bombastic career intro statement by the eccentric director and the latter being an unforgettable QT-penned script.
The parallels to previous Tarantino work are abundant: heist film with a handful of colorful (get it?) characters, debriefings in abandoned industrial warehouses, a lone wolf smitten by a bubbly Southern belle diner waitress, arts-obsessive oddballs in tense gangster-induced shenanigans, the list goes on. Whether this purposeful homage or similarity by film osmosis, the similar threads do not snag the greatness that is Baby Driver. No doubt this is the best film Edgar Wright has done to date; his singular quirkiness shines through the remnants of inspiration that this movie presents. The meticulously crafted opening car chase combines tangible danger with a punk-rock attitude towards authority placing it in ‘all-time great’ territory with Bullitt, Ronin & The Italian Job.
The entire cast of Baby Driver steps up and knocks it out of the proverbial park under Wright’s direction. Relative newbie Ansel Elgort delivers a fully human yet subdued performance as Baby, a music-junkie get-away driver with a boyish face who drowns out his work and tedious life wearing a variety of older generation iPods. Unlike say, Ryan Gosling in Drive (a uniquely stylish film in its own right), the distant nature of this slick-steering protagonist develops into a far more readable character with playful musical proclivities from the beginning. He is not a mute; he simply loves his playlists!
Although Baby works with new crews on each assignment, the brain trust of the operations is Doc, a throwback no-nonsense supervisor with sophisticated criminal experience and a conservative wardrobe played by the generational Kevin Spacey. My opinion that Spacey’s role is the most pedestrian, knowing what kind of chops he brings to every performance he does, speaks to how fluidly this group of actors took to their characters. Baby lives and takes care of his deaf, wheelchair bound foster father, Joseph portrayed gracefully by CJ Jones. Many of the film’s most wholesome, lovely moments are between Baby and Joseph, who communicate endearingly with sign language.Lily James’ character, Debora acts as the heart of the film, the catalyst who stirs an immense shift in Baby’s disposition. Considering she is a beautiful songbird, he falls for her right away.
The most magnetic performance in Baby Driver belonged to none other than Jamie Foxx. It’s been quite awhile since a Foxx performance stood out, maybe going back to 2009’s The Soloist. His character Bats is a loquacious gangster with a clever tongue and an unnerving disposition. The 2005 Oscar Winner brings a darkly unpredictable tension within the group dynamic of the crew that threatens Baby’s desire to leave the criminal world behind unscathed, both sans felony charges and safe along with loved ones.
Mad Men leading man Jon Hamm & Elza Gonzàlez portray a deliciously cringe-worthy couple who work with Baby twice, a rare if not singular occurrence under Doc’s managerial style. The sexiness exuded from these two is palpable if not squandered a tad by their constant insistence on PDAs. Their additions are pulpy if not overacted as ancillary characters that become a pivotal fulcrum to whether or not Baby gets his happy ending with Debora.
Despite the dialogue is sharp and concisely witty, there were again shades of the succinct, fast-paced barbs often utilized in great bulk by Tarantino in his films. The difference in this arena being that it occasionally comes off like a try-hard imitation to a one-of-a-kind style in hopes of creating memorable one-liners in the film geek lexicon.
Edgar Wright builds the engine of Baby Driver with the love of music and its many forms of inspiration throughout our lives. We use it to brighten our day, to turn the mundane into something purposeful, to drown out our surroundings, to peacefully just let us do our fucking job. The eclectic soundtrack initially reflects the manic energy of Wright’s previous movies but ventures into the harmonic with many 60s and 70s feel-good soul songs by artists such as Martha Reeves, The Commodores, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Ike & Tina Turner and others. Whereas similar movies *cough* Jackie Brown, Guardians of the Galaxy *cough* that integrate this mood of music tend to do so with more of a focused consistency, Baby Driver is unique in the sense that the love note to music aficionados begins and continues with entirely different stylistic choices.
The thrilling opening police car chase playfully introduces the audience to Baby’s obsession with his iPod with a neo-punk rock song by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Memorable tracks such as ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus and Baby’s go-to heist accompanying music ‘Brighton Rock’ by Queen work alongside heavy hitters such as The Beach Boys, Beck and a title track by Simon Garfunkel. Wright even manages to weave in some Run The Jewels for the hip-hop heads. Other films that utilize music as essentially another character in the film tend to not do so as erratic as in Baby Driver yet for those that have a similar erratic, wide-spanning interest in the measured instrumental, soul-revealing nature of the art, this wrinkle in the formula may be a most welcomed addition.
As amazingly intoxicating as the first-rate driving scenes are, as kinetic as the Mexican standoff shootouts are, as memorable as the small cast of characters are, the conclusion of Baby Driver meanders. While it is increasingly difficult to write original material with all the years of filmmaking preceding, the final scenes take the 'safe' route where it had an opportunity to wrap up in somewhat unchartered territory. Not to say the movie is poor in the third act, Wright chooses to end the story in all-too-familiar territory. Most viewers will be satisfied but for how well the ingredients came together for a fun, soulful ride, there was an opportunity to evoke more emotive themes. A great task was accomplished in developing Baby's character and motivations with a character that was not much of a talker.
Looking at Baby Driver from a macro perspective, the final product was an amazing achievement. This will undoubtedly be one of the highest-rated as well as fan favorites of the year. It is slick; the meticulous level of detail to the point of editing the intense shootout sequences to match the firing of rounds to the measures of the song being played. This is one aspect of the film that exceeds anything even tried previously with the same idea. The film certainly has its influences that are quite tangible in terms of story but all of it comes together for a unique viewing experience as to not risk being completely derivative.