Imagine a musical where nobody sings – sounds impossible, right? Well, I guess that means Edgar Wright has achieved the impossible, as his latest outing, Baby Driver, is exactly that.
In typically stylish fashion, the director has crafted a high-octane car chase flick built entirely around a killer soundtrack – a sing-along affair, just without the actual sing-along part.
The end result is a fresh, funny and kinetic romp of a film, that is unlike any blockbuster film you’ve seen in years.
Baby Driver introduces us to Baby (Ansel Elgort), a slick getaway driver afflicted with childhood trauma-related tinnitus so intense that only a constant stream of music can keep it under control. Baby is indebted to gangland figure Doc (Kevin Spacey), who masterminds the bank jobs that require Baby’s less-than-legal skillset.
Despite assurances that his debt has finally been repaid, Baby resolves to go straight and soon strikes up a relationship with Debora (Lily James), a lovely young waitress. However – as is so often the way with members of the criminal fraternity – Doc later goes back on his word and demands that Baby return to work for him once more.
Failure to do so will have dire consequences for Debora and Baby’s deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones), but the repercussions of getting involved might well prove equally deadly for Baby himself…
A CRACKING STORY
Edgar Wright knows how to tell a cracking story, and Baby Driver showcases all the charms of a Wright-penned screenplay. It’s solidly constructed (overlooking a slightly ropey third act), easy to follow and, above all, fun.
Furthermore, it’s the kind of movie that offers less of a “laugh out loud” type of scattered hilarity in favour of keeping a constant stream of chuckles coming. You might not ever wipe tears of laughter from your eyes during Baby Driver, but you’ll also struggle to clear the perpetual smile from off your face, too.
But most importantly of all, this is the type of big budget outing that actually cares about its characters, and Wright clearly wants us to root for Baby, Debora and Joseph, even amidst the stunning action set pieces (all of which are choreographed with his trademark visual flair and admirable affection for practical stuntwork).
A large part of this is down to the casting. Whilst Wright is equally adept at handling intimate moments as he is spectacular car chases – this is the guy who started out with low-budget, actor-centric fare like Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, after all – it’s also fair to say that it’s no accident he’s assembled a troupe of performers capable of bringing added weight to proceedings.
Of these, heavyweights like Spacey and Jamie Foxx (as unpredictable crew member Bats) understandably make the largest impression. Yet the comparatively less experienced Elgort and Downton Abbey star James – along with the soulful Jones – ultimately provide the heart of Baby Driver, and their genuine chemistry gives the movie an emotional bedrock sorely lacking in other films within the genre.
MUSIC AND EDITING: THE REAL STARS?
In the end though, it’s the incredible tango between the music and editing of Baby Driver that stays with you long after the credits roll. Composer Steven Price and editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos have coordinated the movie’s licensed soundtrack and Bill Pope’s dynamic cinematography into a jaw-droppingly seamless whole.
Every camera move and gunshot, every facial twitch and tire drift – indeed, virtually every single moment where visuals are accompanied by tunes – is precisely matched to one of the classic tracks in Baby Driver.
This is the secret behind how Wright has managed to craft a musical without any of his stars having to belt out a single note – by fully integrating every song into the narrative. It’s also the aspect of the film that allows it to tower over even the Guardians of the Galaxy series, until now the reigning champion of music-driven action-comedy flicks.
A FEW BUM NOTES
All this is not to say that Baby Driver is perfect. As alluded to earlier, the film’s final stretch does have a few bumps in the road, as events become increasingly more implausible and plot start to open up in the narrative. The climax also drags on a tad too long, as if Wright wants to make sure we get enough bang for our car chase buck.
And yet despite these minor quibbles, there’s nothing outright bad in the tail-end of Baby Driver, and given its first two-thirds are such a blast, you’ll almost certainly find yourself willing to overlook any dents in the fender its final act might have.
Baby Driver is exactly what we need more of in modern cinema: it’s original, well-crafted and entertaining. Long-time admirers of Wright’s previous films will undoubtedly love it, and – thanks to its innovative use of an absolute belter of a soundtrack – it’s likely to win the director more than a few new fans, too.