Film review | Baby Driver: All revved up and ready to go

Baby Driver is the kind of indulgent and fun film that Hollywood-friendly auteurs don’t get to make much of these days... • 4/5

Criminal minds: Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eliza Gonzalez and Jon Hamm
Criminal minds: Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eliza Gonzalez and Jon Hamm

So it turns out that cult writer-director Edgar Wright getting booted out of doing Ant-Man for Marvel may have been a good thing after all – if the inspired heist caper and “quasi-musical” Baby Driver is anything to go by. Because the director of the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ (Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, At World’s End) has served up a piece of nostalgia-ridden but gleefully entertaining summer blockbuster, mercifully free of the franchise strictures that something like – indeed – Marvel Studios operates under.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver who listens to music constantly to drown out the tinnitus that is the result of the car accident that claimed his parents’ lives years ago. He is good at what he does... which he does to pay off a debt to a drug baron, Doc (Kevin Spacey), much to the chagrin of his deaf and elderly foster father Joseph (CJ Jones). But when he falls in love with a waitress, Debora (Lily James), he begins to itch to get out. But it’s unlikely that his criminally ambitious partners – Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González) are likely to be understanding of his desire for a change in lifestyle... much less when there’s the biggest heist of them all to be performed.

Baby Driver wears its influences – both cinematic and musical – so prominently on its sleeve that it might just be mistaken for a cut of an early Tarantino film at times – with a clear call-back to cult classics like Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978) and Jean Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967).  (Incidentally, Nicolas Winding Refn had also mixed in both to make the Ryan Gosling-starring critical darling Drive (2011) – which, however, makes for a distinctly different cocktail to Baby Driver). 

Sweet escape: Lily James and Ansel Elgort
Sweet escape: Lily James and Ansel Elgort

But it is also, strangely enough, Wright’s least stylized film – not always a good thing, considering the core quirkiness of its premise. Unlike the zippily-edited and tongue-in-cheek stylings of the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ (to say nothing of the neon madness that is Scott Pilgrim), here the camera work is allowed to be raw and frantic, and the characters often reflect a lived-in criminal nastiness that has the effect of grounding the drama rather than keeping it up there in the pop culture miasma Wright traditionally operates in (Foxx’s  vindictive, leery streak is the perfect example).

In its intensity to channel vintage movies that he loves while giving them a poppy, modern spin, Wright’s latest brings to mind his compatriot Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire – set in one location where Baby Driver is all about moving from one place to another, but also channeling a 1970s vibe while being populated by amoral characters. Just as Wheatley made his film on the back of an ambitious project (High Rise) and whose sigh of relief at returning to something more low-key and just plain fun was audible all throughout Free Fire, so does Wright's film feel like a lean and mean machine of fun.

These are the kind of ‘revenge films’ on the industry it would be good to see more of. Oh, Baby Driver only ostensibly becomes something of a revenge movie in its latter chapters, but for Wright, this feels very much like an act of revenge indeed. Having been removed from Marvel’s Ant-Man (2016) – ye olde “creative differences” chestnut was trotted out – he clearly set out to make something that jibes with his inclinations, and forget the apologies and damn the consequences.

In other words, Baby Driver is the kind of indulgent and fun film that Hollywood-friendly auteurs don’t get to make much of these days... mainly because there’s not too many of them about. Edgar Wright knows how to craft delicious pieces of entertainment brimming with dynamism and humour – this is a film as fleeting, but also as catchy and hypnotic, as the pop songs that are its main leitmotif.

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