The car-chase has been a staple of action cinema since Peter Yate’s Bullit burst on to screens in 1968 (and arguably peaked only a few years later in 1971 with The French Connection). In recent years, while the advances in CGI have blown the scale of modern chase scenes through the roof (sometimes with excellent results e.g. the highway scenes in Bad Boys II and The Matrix Reloaded), there is an unmistakable character to grittier, more practical and stunt driven sequences, of which there has been a small resurgence; with filmmakers like Gareth Evans (The Raid 2) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) serving up some of the best examples.
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is heavily inspired by this lineage of car films, especially Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978) and John Landis’ The Blues Brothers (1980) but it is the influence of music and musicals that really sets it apart.
The film centres on Baby (Ansel Elgort), a quiet but extremely talented getaway driver who is, to combat the tinnitus he has had since childhood, constantly soundtracking his own life through an ever-present set of earbuds. The plot is straighforward: we have the classic ‘one last job’ set up, with Baby looking to put an end to his outlaw career pulling heists for Atlanta crime boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey). But as is the way with these things, it doesn’t go quite as smoothly as he’d like.
It is a testament to Edgar Wright’s talent that Baby Driver works. The monsterous tracklist (running about 35 songs) is used brilliantly. It could easily have come across like someone simply showing off their record collection, and whilst that may be the case, it is worked in with the visuals so well that it doesn’t feel that way. Throughout the movie, almost everything is in rythm to the soundtrack; from the gear changes, pedal stomps and gunshots of the action scenes to the counting of money and dishing out of coffee. Think of the pool-cue zombie bashing scene set to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now from Shaun of the Dead taken to the next level. Making such a diverse selection of tracks work together well is also impressive: the film takes in everything from T-Rex and Beck to Young MC and The Incredible Bongo Band, sometimes using bits of orchestral score to stitch songs together. A heist set to The Damned’s
Neat Neat Neat and the track playing in Baby’s ears during a tense diner scene late on (no psoilers) are standouts.
On a surface level, the film is technically brilliant. The stunts, orchestrated by the team behind the John Wick films (Darrin Prescott, Robert Nagle, Jeremy Fry) and the choreography by Ryan Heffington (Sia’s Chandelier video) gel effortlessly. The main action set-pieces are thrilling and never repetative, with each heist also adding to the story, as Baby begins to take more notice of the collateral damage his line of work involves. Digging a bit below the surface, there is a little less to find.
Lily James is very good as Deborah, Baby’s True Romance-style love interest, and the actors making up the rest of the crimal gang are on top form. Jamie Foxx as the insane ‘Bats’, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez as thieving couple ‘Buddy & Darling’ and especially Kevin Spacey as ‘Doc’ are all given their moments.
Like Quentin Tarantino (who also payed tribute to the car-chase genre in 2007 with Death Proof) Wright makes no secret of his inspirations and makes films that celebrate them; melding them all together in to his own identifiable style and making them feel fresh. With films like this, the depth is in the wit and inventiveness of its technical execution with the emotional depths of its characters taking a backseat. What we get between Baby and the secondary characters are a collection of moments (the best of which being with Joe, his elderly, deaf guardian played by CJ Jones) as opposed to fully fleshed out relationships. But for the film that Baby Driver is, it works.
As a whole, Baby Driver is a visually creative and consistently funny film with a cool cast of characters and some genuine heart. Well worth your time.
Words by Scott E.
Baby Driver is released in UK cinemas on the 28th of June 2017.