Edgar Wright achieved mainstream attention for his genre-bending satire trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, as well as his under-appreciated comic-book masterpiece Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Wright’s eye for action-as-character study, ear for a good soundtrack and ability to create characters both witty and full of heart are a hallmark of all his work. So goes the same with Baby Driver, one of this summer’s must-see thrill-rides.
Ansel Elgort is Baby, a fantastically talented getaway driver working for the criminal kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey). Doc’s a smart guy with his fingers in every pot of Atlanta’s underworld. Baby is Doc’s secret weapon, the only steady employee in an ever-shifting lineup of bank robbers and thieves. Not to say Baby is one of them; he just drives to pay down a debt to Doc after a past run-in. With his disabled foster father and tragic backstory, Baby’s practically a hero. Besides, look at the real criminals: lovebirds Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and bloodthirsty Bats (Jamie Foxx). Nasty characters all around.
Baby never removes his white iPhone earbuds during a job. He prefers music that fits his mood. Not unlike the Awesome Mixes in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, music plays a tactile role in the story — we listen along with Baby, and his songs inform every scene. It’s brilliant shorthand and Wright employs it with aplomb; we get to know Baby through his music while he uses it to bond with Debra (Lily James), a waitress with dreams of driving away from her life and who might just provide Baby his own getaway.
The car chases are stellar, the foot chases equally compelling. Wright directs action like nobody else in the business. Elgort’s great; Baby is an all-time heist hero. Yet for all its heat, the third act over-complicates itself with too many plot beats and ends up just a little cold. Wright is attuned to the genre’s structure nd has spoken of the two ways a heist film can end: with death or a getaway. He chooses a third way and, in doing so, proves why those two are the most common endings to the heist drama. Their simplicity fits the stories.
Which is interesting, because “simplicity” seems to be Wright’s mantra and he embraces it to perfect effect. His characters speak in bursts, his soundtrack helps tell the story, his chases follow the car and tell pocket dramas — chess matches with vehicles rather than plastic pieces. It’s the sort of perfect genre movie that makes you wonder why every attempt isn’t so fully conceived and well-executed. “Baby Driver” makes it look easy. It’s the kind of movie to which you tap your foot.
There are plenty of action blockbusters this summer — even some really great ones — but none are as earnest or original as Baby Driver. If you’re into heists, music, romance or comedy, you’ll be into this one.