Friday, 22 September 2017

Review #1,250: 'Baby Driver' (2017)

It feels like decades have passed since British writer/director Edgar Wright pulled away from Marvel's Ant-Man, apparently in fear of the studio's insistence on having the action take place within their Cinematic Universe and jeopardising his singular vision in the process. And it feels even longer since the underwhelming closure to the 'Cornetto Trilogy', 2013's The World's End, graced the big screen. But Wright has clearly been making the most of his spare time, finally completing the script for a movie that has been clattering around his head for over 20 years (he had the idea back in 1994). Drawing inspiration from a line in Simon & Garfunkel's song Baby Driver ("They call me baby driver, and once upon a pair of wheels," and a collection of his favourite petrol-head movies, he has delivered what is by far his most accomplished work to date.

Shortly before the release of Baby Driver, Wright hosted a film festival entitled 'Car Car Land' - a collection of his favourite car chase movies, featuring everything from William Friedkin's The French Connection to Walter Hill's The Driver. It has been quite rightly said that great cinematic action feels like a dance - elegant, brutal, and pieced together with delicate invention and skill. It is fitting that Wright named his festival after one of the finest musicals of recent times, La La Land. He has also taken this theory quite literally with Baby Driver, a movie as much at home with dazzling musical numbers as it is with high-speed pursuits and gun-fire, combining them beautifully without a hint of smugness. Our hero the getaway driver times his entire life to the beat ever-blasting into his ears from his loaded collection of iPods. A menial task such as making a sandwich becomes a toe-tapping dance number.

His name is Baby ("B-A-B-Y, Baby," as he confirms to practically everybody he meets), and his hipster blend of skinny jeans and sunglasses may have been grating without Ansel Elgort. Like Channing Tatum, his physicality and grace prevents you from taking your eyes off him once he starts to move, and cinematographer Bill Pope make sure to capture these moments in all their glory (including one terrific tracking shot at the start). Baby needs his music to block out the tinnitus constantly ringing in his ears, but also to remind him of the music-loving mother he lost in the very accident that caused his affliction. His short life has been spent in the debt of gangster Doc (Kevin Spacey), who employs the youngster's superhuman skills behind the wheel as a getaway driver for his ever-changing roster of low-life bank robbers. Each of them eye Baby with both curiosity and suspicion, when all he wants to do is pay off what he owes and leave town with adorable waitress Debora (Lily James). But one last job is never one last job.

Opening with a bank job that will leave you stunned at both the editing and choreography (no CGI is used), there's an early sense that Wight may have blown his load too early. But this only kicks off two hours in the hands of a craftsman who truly understand the mechanics of cinema. Not just action cinema, but musical and dramatic, and the film offers its fair share of belly laughs too. It's as much of an exaggerated world as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but contains itself in its own little world. The characters are larger-than-life but tangible, incredibly brought to life by the likes of Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Bernthal. There's an almost ever-present soundtrack, with the characters speaking and moving in sync with the rhythm, which lend the film a unique energy. When the music stops and the soundtrack screeches to reflect Baby's tinnitus, we long to be thrown straight back into Wright's fantasy world. The car chases, the love story, the testosterone-fuelled exchanges - there's nothing new here, but Edgar Wright knows this. Baby Driver is so swaggeringly confident and stylishly hypnotic that it becomes a genre film like no other, causing most other action movies to hang their heads in shame.

Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jon Bernthal
Country: UK/USA

Rating: *****

Tom Gillespie

Baby Driver (2017) on IMDb

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