Any year in which there is an Edgar Wright film slated for release, that film automatically earns itself a spot in my top 10 most anticipated films of that year. Edgar Wright is, hands-down, my favorite director working today, going all the way back to his work on the British sitcom Spaced, and I have loved every film he has directed so far, Shaun of the Dead being one of my favorite movies of all time. While none of his films have been huge financial successes, all of them have been received exceptionally well critically (in fact, none of his directorial efforts have fallen below 80% on Rotten Tomatoes). For all of those reasons and more, I was very much looking forward to Baby Driver.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is incredibly talented behind the wheel of a car, but he has simply fallen in with the wrong crowd. Having endured a terrible accident as a child that permanently damaged his hearing, he has to listen to music at all times to drown out the constant ringing in his ears while working as a getaway driver to pay off his debts and finally free himself from his obligations to a dangerous criminal (Kevin Spacey) so that he can hit the road with his new girlfriend (Lily James). There’s nothing quite like a good Edgar Wright movie. So, has Wright done it once again or might Baby Driver be his first real swing and a miss? Read on to find out…
When I first heard the synopsis for Baby Driver, I immediately recognized the potential a story like this has in the hands of an Edgar Wright. The tinitus angle (the ringing in the ears) is such a brilliant plotpoint and it’s used to great effect in this movie. We’ve seen a ton of getaway driver movies, but the musical aspect of the story is what really makes this film unique. Wright is such a brilliant writer and director, and for my money, no one blends sound and imagery together quite like he does, but Baby Driver takes that to a whole new level. The way Wright encorporates the action, the car chases, the shootouts, even the simple movement of characters, and choreographs it all seemlessly to the soundtrack is truly awe-inspiring. It all adds up to make the whole thing that much more impressive to behold.
Wright is such a detail-oriented director with even the subtlest of things, like a piece of graffiti on a wall in the background that corresponds to a lyric in a song. It’s the kind of film that makes you wanna turn right back around and watch it again to pick up on all of the little nuances. Baby Driver is also Wright’s most serious movie to date, which isn’t saying a whole lot considering his catalogue, but there’s still plenty of humor throughout. It’s actually a really funny movie, with the humor always deriving authentically from the characters first and foremost, which is important. I can’t think of a single joke in the movie that didn’t land with me or the audience I saw the film with as a whole.
As far as the acting goes, the film is perfectly cast across the board. I actually wasn’t familiar with Ansel Elgort’s work prior to this film, so he was the one big question mark for me. I knew Wright wouldn’t have cast him if he wasn’t the absolute perfect person to pull off this role, but the entire film really hinges on his performance, so I was thouroughly pleased to see just how insanely charming and likeable he was as Baby. He brought a real warmth and liveliness to the character which immediately endears himself to you. Even when he‘s stonewalling the other characters due to an inherent lack of social graces he is completely captivating.
The character has a rough past that is illuminated upon in the film, but one of the things I really loved about him is his incredibly touching relationship with his deaf, wheelchair-bound foster father Joseph (CJ Jones), who Baby now takes care of. Their bond tells you everything you need to know about who Baby is deep down. He’s got a big heart. I mean, as if you couldn’t already love Baby enough. He’s just such a wonderfully well-rounded character that you can’t not root for even if you tried.
Now, yes, Baby Driver is technically a crime movie, but at it’s emotional core, it’s really a love story. Edgar Wright is always great about disguising these types of human stories inside of a genre film (Shaun of the Dead was, in actuality, a rom-zom-com). That being said, the other big determining factor as to the success of this film is the relationship between Baby and Lily James’ character, a waitress named Debora whom he meets and immediately falls for. Honestly, it would be hard not to fall for her. Like Baby, she wins you over from the second she hits the screen. She and Baby have instant chemistry that is absolutely adorable and you immediately want things to work out for them. It would be so easy for this character to just be your average stereotypical love interest, but Wright has written the character so well and James just kills it in this film. You truly believe a girl like her would fall for a guy like him.
I also loved Kevin Spacey’s character, the criminal mastermind Doc. He can be pretty tough to read most of the time, but as each additional layer is peeled back you just become more and more fascinated with what this guy is really all about. Baby is his good luck charm, but as the story progresses, all of that changes, but what is even cooler is that everything continues to shift gears throughout the entire movie, and not only with Doc, but with most of the characters. It was so refreshing to not be able to see where this film is going 90% of the time. I was genuinely taken by surprise and even shocked at times by a lot of the big twists and reveals in the film, which is hardly ever the case these days, sadly.
Jon Hamm was the guy I was most looking forward to seeing in this film. I’m a big fan of his and he was outstanding as the exceedingly charming lowlife Buddy, who turned out to be the most surprising character in the entire film. Outside of Baby and Debora, I loved his character’s story the most. The gorgeous Eiza González was equally fantastic as Buddy’s partner-in-crime-and-life, Darling (these are all code names, by the way). Jamie Foxx’s appropriately named character Bats is perhaps the biggest scumbag of the bunch and Foxx pulls this off exceptionally well. He’s really funny in the film, but it’s his maniacal cold-blooded ruthlessness that really puts you on edge whenever he’s sharing the screen with the characters you care for. Lanny Joon and Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) also make for hilarious additions to the cast as members of this criminal enterprise.
I would be really hardpressed to point out very many negatives in the film, but if I had to really point one out, it would be that I really could have used more of Jon Bernthal’s character, Griff. It appears as if he is being set up as a key character at the beginning of the film, but then he quickly fades away and disappears from the story entirely, seemingly for no good reason, especially for an actor of his status at the moment. What’s even more peculiar is that Jamie Foxx’s character seems to step in to fullfill all of the things that it appeared Bernthal was being set up to do. It’s almost as if the actor simply wasn’t available anymore and they had to find a way to replace him, which, who knows, that very well could have been the case.
I do wanna also point out that the film was shot in Atlanta, and as someone who grew up in Atlanta and still lives there to this day, I was legitimately surprised by just how much the city really lent itself to the overall world of the film and the lives of the characters involved. They shoot stuff in Atlanta all the time (just about every Marvel film these days shoots here), but the films and TV shows themselves are hardly ever actually set there (except for The Walking Dead, of course, and obviously, Atlanta). I didn’t even realize Baby Driver was actually set in Atlanta until I saw the film, and even I was taken aback by that, but it actually made for the perfect setting to this story. There’s tons of things and places that Atlanta natives will instantly recognize, but it’s all stuff that will still work for the uninitiated and it’s all used perfectly to inform the audience on the characters themselves.
I will say, though, as an Atlanta native and a HUGE fan of Outkast, I’m utterly ashamed that I did not spot Big Boi, one-half of my all-time favorite rap group, who appears in a cameo in the film alongside fellow Atlanta native and rapper Killer Mike. I really could have used an Outkast song on the soundtrack though (come on, they did it on Atlanta). Big Boi is featured on one of the original songs on the soundtrack, though, so that’s pretty sweet.
Speaking of, let’s talk about the music, which is pretty much non-stop thoughout the entire movie. With an impressive 30 songs featured on the soundtrack, it’s an insanely eclectic assortment of tracks. The best part is that every song is actually part of the story, either playing in Baby’s headphones, or through stereos or jukeboxes. I loved how each song seems important to the moment at hand and each one feels like it actually means something to the lead character. Baby is a true music aficionado, it’s more than just a way to drown out the ringing in his ears. Plus, he’s a musician in his own right, making his own tracks using a really cool rig created for the film by Canadian DJ Kid Koala. This actually works its way into the story in a really interesting way, leading to one of the film’s more intense moments. I love Guardians of the Galaxy as much as the next guy, but Baby Driver truly has the best soundtrack of the year, a definite must-buy. Personal standout tracks for me include Beck’s “Debra,” “Radar Love” by Golden Earring, and, of course, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver.” And, oh hell yeah, there’s some Queen in there too!
When all was said and done, I ended up freakin’ LOVING this movie! The music, the action, the characters, the drama, the humor, the romance, Baby Driver really has it all. This might even be my favorite Edgar Wright film since Shaun of the Dead. I already know it’s going to wind up in my top 10 films of the year (it’ll easily land right up at the top alongside Logan and Get Out, if not at number one). I truly can’t wait for this film to officially hit theaters so I can go right back out and see it again. If you’re an Edgar Wright fan like myself or just want to get swept away in a whirlwind of car chases, shootouts and hilarity, then you definitely wanna check this one out!