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Film Review: Baby Driver (2017)
July 7, 2017
The well received, Edgar Wright film, Baby Driver (which premiered in March to raucous applause at SXSW) stars Ansel Elgort as a young get-away driver who finds himself in over his head after his “last” job. Working for a kingpin named Doc (Kevin Spacey), the titular Baby (Elgort) is teamed up with an assortment of violent robbers, from the photogenic, lovesick couple Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González) to the out-of-control, antagonistic Bats (Jamie Foxx). Baby’s fellow criminals are perplexed and amused by his sunglasses-wearing, stoic demeanour and by his tinnitus, which he drowns out with an endless stream of music from multiple iPods. Outside of the criminal world of the city of Atlanta, Baby falls head over heels with a cherubic waitress named Debora (Lily James) and cares for his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones) while dreaming of a idyllic, crime-free future on the road.
With that inimitable Edgar Wright audio-visual style, Baby Driver is a cinematic revelry of great tunes paired perfectly with flashy action and ingenious editing. Car and foot chases are set to the beat of high-energy songs and the balletic movements of actors and camera in long takes provide a counterpoint to more propulsive editing. Wright’s passion for filmmaking (and car chases) really shines in his action sequences, which also take their inspiration from other great car films, like Bullitt, Drive, and The Italian Job. This long-gestating project was even presaged in a music video Wright directed over a decade ago for Mint Royale starring Noel Fielding.
One especially wonderful thing about Baby Driver is the diverse representation. Latin American González and African American Foxx play tough and electrifying criminals with a subversive turn that elevates their characters from the stereotypes that they could have been. Jones delivers his lines using sign language in his scenes with Elgort, who also plays a hearing-impaired person.
Sadly, the film suffers in the areas of story and character development. Baby, beyond his physical quirks, lacks a strong personality or deep struggle. The tension between his good and criminal sides is a little hard to parse. Sure, Baby tries to protect innocent people from the bullets of his teammates, but only up to a point before he starts firing guns himself. His desire to live an honest life seems to stem more from his foster father’s wishes than his own because, for the most part, Baby seems apathetic and adrift. Far more interesting characters, like Doc and Buddy, slide from nuance into cliché after one line of bad dialogue. Baby and Debora have a lukewarm chemistry (their meet-cute is kinda awkward), although Wright films James in a very charming light that almost makes up for it.
Comparing Baby Driver to other Wright films is inevitable. Elgort is likeable enough, continuing the long line of baby-faced or man-child characters in Wright’s stories, but he doesn’t have the added humour and charisma that Simon Pegg had previously brought as Wright’s usual protagonist in the Cornetto trilogy. Moving from a very British setting to a very American one is a bold choice for Wright, and certainly not a wrong one, but somehow feels weirdly filtered and not as lived-in. (Almost too American, even, with its diner hub, muscle cars, and other 1950s American touchstones.) As with his other films, Wright struggles with providing a clean-cut, satisfying ending; just when it seems like Baby Driver is about to conclude, the movie goes on for another ten minutes trying to tie itself into a neat and happy ending. So although Baby Driver is plenty entertaining, it is not quite Wright’s best film to date.