Edgar Wright is a name that often elicits dumbfounded looks from the uninitiated and joyful, near-aneurysms from his loyal fans. Saying he’s one of the best directors working currently wouldn’t be a stretch but that highly coveted name recognition has been just beyond reach. With his latest movie, Baby Driver, in theaters this week, Edgar Wright is poised to be one of the most recognized names in Hollywood, not because this is his best film to date but because this is the best movie to come out this year.
Baby Driver is a tough movie to pin down genre wise. It pulls from a wide variety of film styles to amalgam something truly unique. There’s plenty going on that points towards a standard heist movie, more than enough car sequences to make this a chase movie and enough interplay with the characters to sprinkle in a bit of comedy. Edgar Wright is best know for his genre spoof movies, that lean more towards comedy than drama, but Baby Driver shifts the balance towards the dramatic with amazing results.
The movie does its best to throw you off balance with a very silly introduction to our main character, Baby (Ansel Elgort) that we see lip-syncing while he waits for his mysterious passengers to return from a quick trip to the bank. I haven’t seen much of old Elgort; he tends to be in what my mother refers to as teeny-booper nonsense, and as such, his silly intro had me wondering if he could carry a movie of the quality I was expecting. But as soon as Baby starts the second part of the movie title, the movie never looks back.
I’m not a car movie buff. My knowledge the genre is unfortunately limited to the wholly unrealistic Fast-dash-Furious franchise, with some Jason Bourne and James Bond mixed in. But even my plebeian awareness allowed me to appreciate the sheer beauty of the car stunts going on in this movie. The pre-opening credits sequence alone is more enjoyable and amazing than anything I’ve ever seen. It felt realistic and possible while managing to seem like something out of a pre-rendered video game cut-scene.
The overall cast is filled with bonafide stars but the real standouts, outside of what will most likely be a career defining shift for Elgort, are Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm. Foxx’s introduction as Bats was similar to meeting Baby in that I was worried he was going to be typical gangster type, like a less silly version of the character he played in Horrible Bosses, but as the movie progressed it became clear the level of nuance written into Bats. And that character reflected against Jon Hamm, really stretching himself as a handsome bad guy, allows for Hamm’s Buddy to play the good cop role. That is, until all hell breaks loose.
While the majority of the film follows a pretty typical “good kid in a bad situation” plot, the way it’s shepherded is masterful. Baby working through these jobs for with some very bad people is his way of trying to put his past behind him and recapture his future. While reflecting all of the inner turmoil that Baby is wading through in the people he’s surrounded by, it becomes clear that the life he’s living, for better or for worse, isn’t one that you get out of cleanly. The tension is always present, Baby being a driver for criminals and all, but what’s lurking underneath the surface for the entirety of the film is that battle for the soul of Baby.
It would be easy to consider the direction of Edgar Wright as an additional character in this film. This movie is so tactically stylistic and simple bits of nuance take this movie from good to great in nearly every sequence. But one thing that can’t be praised enough is the use of music.
It’s become common practice to link movement and sound effects with the score of a film but Baby Driver takes a gimmick and turns it into an art form. There’s a few continuous shot sequences in this movie, but the one on display during the title card portion of this movie is so amazing that I know I’ll need to watch it multiple times to catch everything. The soundtrack, while brilliant in and of itself, plays such a pivotal role and integrates seamlessly into the narrative and the characterization of Baby in particular that I’m shocked the word Music wasn’t in the cast list.
One of the more underrated aspects of the critical analysis of film is a director’s style. This is difficult to do with most directors because they either have too small a catalog to examine or stay so entrenched in one genre that style can be mistaken for trope. Baby Driver is a movie drenched in what makes Edgar Wright such a brilliant filmmaker. Its style and flare is apparent from the get go and will leave most viewers with a sense of awe induced by the fact that they’ve never seen anything like this committed to film.
There isn’t much to complain about with this movie. There’s a love story that seems a bit under served but never tacked on, standing as an impetus for change but not the sole plot mover by any stretch of the imagination. There are plenty of sequences that could come across corny in almost any other film but just seem to work here. And there are a lot of individual shots that will be eerily reminiscent for anyone who has seen a movie from Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy but again, that’s the director’s style shining through.
Baby Driver is not only the best movie I’ve seen all year, it’s the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. Seeing a director I’ve enjoyed for so long “arrive” is exhilarating for me, not only as a fan of him, but as a fan of movies in general. His vision and voice are both so unique, which becomes all the more obvious when you realize he wrote this film as well. Every scene and sequence is packed with style, self referential enough to elicit chuckles from people paying close attention but not so narrow that it takes away from the plot. The cast gels perfectly and all deliver performances worthy of mountains of praise. The action sequences are breakneck, but shot in such a visually pleasing way that makes you wonder why anyone would ever shoot solely on shaky cam.
Baby Driver is gorgeous, thrilling, stylish and cool like if Rihanna had a baby with a roller coaster and that kid was really into Shaun of the Dead. If that metaphor doesn’t get you interested, you may be medically deceased.